By Writing Excuses | May 25, 2008 - 8:13 pm - Posted in Ideas, Season 1, Writing Prompt

Howard kicks this off with his own sure-fire cure for Writers’ Block, “BIC HOK:” Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. The Writing Excuses team takes off from there, discussing the different kinds of Writers’ Block, and how to overcome each of them. We cover free-writing, re-reading and reviewing, and focusing on your motivations for writing… and for NOT writing, which is often the heart of the problem.

This week from our sponsor Tor, check out Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.

This entry was posted on Sunday, May 25th, 2008 at 8:13 pm and is filed under Ideas, Season 1, Writing Prompt. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

48 Comments

  1. May 25, 2008 @ 9:55 pm


    To get myself to write, I’ve always found it useful to write contracts with myself. I write out the specific conditions and sign it, just as if it were really between two different people. One of my more recent contracts was that I had to post a chapter in my novel’s revision on my writing group’s website every 30 days during winter semester. Of course, no contract is complete without breach-of-contract repurcussions. For this particular contract, if I failed to get the chapter up, I had to do lots and lots of wallsits (specifically, I did them while reading about 1.5 chapters of a Dickens novel). I absolutely hate wallsits, so they were motivation to finish my chapters on time (but if I did end up doing them, they helped keep me in shape for rugby). They weren’t my motivation for writing, they were just my motivation to stick to a schedule. I, like Brandon, thrive on scheduling pressure. Since then, some of my friends have picked up the practice: write out the conditions, set the repurcussions, try not to breach your contract. For those of you who need a schedule *and* a reason to stick to it, there’s one possibility.

    Posted by Conyngham
  2. May 25, 2008 @ 9:55 pm


    So, if we write off of these prompts, do you want us to share what we came up with? Or you just want to help us write something…Sorry, I don’t get it.

    Love the show though. It’s informative.

    Thanks,
    Jon

    Posted by Jon
  3. May 25, 2008 @ 10:25 pm


    With a writing prompt like that, I need to do a short story about it! And by next week, no less. Thanks guys, for this and all the other episodes.

    Posted by Brickwall
  4. May 26, 2008 @ 7:40 am


    Ok, I’m not hearing things. Either TOR didn’t give you guys something new to plug this week, or they are really trying to push Little Brother.
    Oh well Brandon, less work for you as you just dropped in the old plug line.

    Oh and I am really enjoying this weeks episode. I rarely get to listen to them at my PC. So often I am in my truck and it is hard to hear.

    As soon as I am done listening to I am going to BIC HOK myself. Much writing to do and ideas to explore, so browser off, email disconnected, flip on my “Story” playlist and get to work.

    Posted by WEKM
  5. May 26, 2008 @ 10:13 am


    Great podcast again, guys. :-)

    Three things come to my mind on dealing with writer’s block:

    (1) Find someone to talk with about it. From my experience it’s often easier to identify a problem when you talk about it, and have to explain to someone what you think the problem might be. That someone may not be able to solve the problem for you, but talking can help you to identify the problem yourself. And identifying the problem is the first step to solving it.

    (2) Approach a scene from a different point of view, not just in thinking about it, but right there in the story. Don’t tell it through the eyes of your protagonist, tell it through the eyes of a different character. Or switch from third-person to first-person, and so on. You may never use that part because it doesn’t fit the rest of your storytelling, but it can – from my experience – help to get the thoughts flowing freely again.

    (3) If you are used to write in sequence, scene by scene, then skipping a beat here and there can sometimes be useful. I once found myself stuck in a scene where I knew the beginning and the end, but couldn’t figure out what would/should happen to go from A to Z. Then I realized my problem was that I wanted to get to the *next* scene as fast as possible, but subconsciously knew that the story would suffer if I moved too fast. So I wrote the next scene, despite almost always writing “sequentially”, and once I had done that I found it much easier to figure out what events had to happen to lead to that outcome.

    Posted by Andreas
  6. May 26, 2008 @ 11:52 am


    I actually write all my stuff out pencil-and-paper. I have difficulty working on screen, for some reason. But it’s a lot easier to eliminate distractions (as Howard said, no Solitaire, no Web browser) and it’s a lot easier to focus on *writing* as opposed to editing, which is a trap that I find it’s easy to fall into. I usually write out one chapter at a time, come to the computer and get that chapter typed out, get some line editing done as I do so, and then I’ve re-read everything that happens in that chapter (I find otherwise, I’ll get wrapped up in a particular scene or character) and am ready to move on.

    When I’m stuck, it’s usually either because I’m unhappy with the quality of my writing or because I don’t quite know what’s happening next. In the latter case I’ll usually reread what I’ve already written and – this is probably going to sound kind of weird – make notes of what’s happened in that chapter, which characters have done what, and so forth. It helps to get me in the right headspace, and then I also have a smaller, more digestible version of events, so if I do need to refer back to something I don’t have to reread a whole scene or chapter.

    As Andreas mentioned, I’ll occasionally skip scenes (though I’m an extraordinarily linear writer, I find doing that very difficult, but sometimes it helps moving forward). I’ve never tried switching persons, but sometimes even switching tenses will do the trick. Having trouble writing in past tense? I’ll switch to present. It doesn’t necessarily have to stay that way, but for some reason, the immediacy of it can be helpful. This is happening to these characters *right now*. Kind of a silly mental trick, but if it works…

    The other thing I’ll occasionally do if I’m stuck and I don’t know where to go next – I’ll forget about what’s supposed to happen next, or at least stop thinking about how I need to get there, and just let the characters do what they want for a while. I don’t always use what comes out – sometimes I end up just rambling, sometimes things happen that were decidedly not supposed to happen – but at least then you’ve gotten the writing done.

    If I’m only stuck because I’m not happy with what I’m producing lately, what it essentially comes down to is “Suck it up, princess”. In a perfect world I’d be able to go back and edit that stuff until I was happy with it and could move on. In the real world, I’ve discovered it’s a *really bad idea* to do any major editing before finishing a project. Apparently rewriting the same scene half a dozen times to make it perfect doesn’t actually get the rest of the book written, something that I learned the hard way.

    Schedule pressure works extraordinarily well to keep me writing when I think I’m producing garbage, but I’ve also found it’s something you can just learn to do. Yeah, your writing in this last scene was a little sub-par. It happens. Get over it. Often it’s not as bad as you think it is. Sometimes it’s at *least* as bad as you think of it, but oh well! That’s what editing’s for – but only after you finish writing your damn book.

    All mental tricks aside, I think what it ultimately comes down to is “Just do it”. Sounds cheesy, but there you have it.

    Also I would like to add that cubicle work beats the hell out of retail. At least in cubicles you can launch USB missiles at each other and try to make the other person laugh while they’re on the phone!

    Posted by Raethe
  7. May 26, 2008 @ 1:12 pm


    @Raethe:

    What you say about editing is something I find very interesting. Right now my story is stuck (again). It’s a little bigger a case of writer’s block than the ones that prevent you from writing for a ew days, more like something to be meassured in weeks or months. But I am slowly getting back into the story again, precisely because I am editing it – with a little help from a friend.

    For me this goes back to my #1 above: Editing – or perhaps I should call it “beta reading” here, as that may be a lot closer to what I have in mind, is something you can also use to get a second opinion that draws you back into your story. If you only do it by yourself I would absolutley agree that editing can pull you out off the writing process. But involving a “beta-reader” forces me to think about my characters again. When confronted with a question like ‘I’m not sure if she would do this there and then’ I am forced to think about the character in question. And thinking about that also helps me figure out how the same character would react in a different situation. I know it may not work for everyone, but I think there can be some merits to … “fine-tuning” a story even before it is finished. It’s like what’s talked about in the podcast about re-reading what you did the day before, only on a different scale.

    As for switching tenses in the story, I would hardly call that a “mental trick”. Me, I have never been much in favour of writing in the first person, but once I tried it as a way to break out of a rut I discovered I can actually do it – and I never before thought I could pull it off. I may not use it often, but at least now I know I can break my usual pattern, that I am not stuck to a certain perspective. Vulcans may act one-dimensional, but they got a good point about infinite diversity in infinte combinations. You can never know if you like someone unless you tried it, and if writer’s block forces you to try a few new things… ;-) :-D

    Posted by Andreas
  8. May 26, 2008 @ 2:47 pm


    @ Andreas:

    I agree, having someone else read and comment on your story can be a huge help when you’re stuck (or even when you’re not). Even when people suggest changes to me though, I’ll often just write them down somewhere for consideration later – and yet I still find them helpful for moving forward.

    That being said, usually in my experience it’s better to avoid editing while actually writing a project, but editing sometimes DOES help. Last summer I made some fairly major revisions to my novel – I think I spent nearly three full days doing them – because I didn’t feel I could move forward without them there. It wasn’t even that I didn’t know what was coming next, or that I didn’t want to write (and I’d much rather write than edit, honestly), but I just felt that I couldn’t keep going until those were done. I guess it’s a

    Posted by Raethe
  9. May 26, 2008 @ 2:52 pm


    (whoa, sorry about that! must have hit the post button by accident!)

    *ahem*

    I guess it’s a question of knowing when you’re editing because you don’t want to write, and when you’re editing because you really need to do it to move on. *shrug*

    Regarding tenses/persons: Yeah, it’s funny how that works, really. I found the same thing with tenses – never used to be fond of present tense at *all*, but I started doing it to break out of ruts and it actually really helps. I’ll actually even write stuff that stays in present tense now – shorts mostly, but the novella I’m in the midst of editing switches back and forth between tenses some.

    Can’t say I’ve ever tried writing a s cene in first person to break out of a rut, but I *will* occasionally write short blurbs in first person from a character I feel I’m not getting to know well enough. It’s usually stuff that’s not intended to end up in the manuscript at all, and may or may not even have anything to do directly with what’s going on in the story, but sometimes it helps just to get a better sense of the characters you’re working with.

    Posted by Raethe
  10. May 26, 2008 @ 3:08 pm


    The one thing that I find really helps me write is an audience. I got into writing again when I first put together my webpage and I needed something interesting to put on it. So I put up the first couple of chapters of my novel in progress, which I had pretty much abandoned five years earlier. Doing that encouraged me to post more chapters, because now I was sharing it with people. The serial thing ended up not working for this story, and I pretty much took a break from putting it up for a year while I wrote the whole thing offline, but it was the serial publishing that kicked it off.

    Another story came about as a true serial story–each chapter written and posted on my blog before I finished, and often before I even started, the next chapter. That was a lot of fun, although I know it’s not how most writers do it.

    Of course, it’ll be a challenge to publish these stories in another medium, now that they’ve appeared on the web, but as they wouldn’t have existed without the web posting, I can hardly call it a mistake to do it that way.

  11. May 26, 2008 @ 8:54 pm


    Thought I’d chime in on this, since motivation (or rather lack thereof :P) is something of a specialty of mine.

    One obstacle that I often run into is a fear of facing my own words. Often times, the words on the page pale in comparison to the fantasy in my head. When I actually sit down and write, that’s a reality check. I sometimes feel like I have a wonderful idea that’s very dear to me, and the process of putting it down on paper just spoils it. The challenge, I feel, is figuring out how to convey my fantasy through words, and my solution is to view this not as drudge work, but as an endeavor to be enjoyed for its own simple rewards.

    My philosophy is that if I’m going to invest so much of my life on a project, then I have to love that project and *every aspect of it*. In other words, I try to find a way to love every chapter, paragraph, sentence and phrase. I’m learning to enjoy the simple process of piecing words together to form sentences with a pleasant flow and meter. I learned this from poetry, and it helps me to think short-term. My reward comes with each properly formed sentence rather than the end of a book that may never come.

    Another problem for me is that I tend to think of writing as linear in fashion. I want to write the same way I read — from the first page to the last, without interruption or backtracking — but I’m coming to realize that writing is like any other creative process. In the same way that a painter’s first brush strokes get buried underneath later ones, and a sculptor will push the same area of clay dozens of times until it’s finally in its proper place, so also will many of the first words, sentences & ideas I lay down be later erased, reformed, or reconstructed…

    Also I think Brandon really highlighted a very strong motivation that many people (including myself) are too inhibited to accept: He drew motivation by focusing on his dream. Since becoming a professional writer is a battle against the odds, it’s only practical to think that it’s foolish fantasize about “making it”. Probability is not in one’s favor, after all. But I think this attitude is self-defeating, and often this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    Anyway, I’m glad this topic was covered and I’d love to hear more about your own motivations and personal processes. It’s inspiring to hear how hard each of you had to work to get to where you are. A lot of good advice from other comment posters as well. Thanks all.

    Posted by RVS
  12. May 26, 2008 @ 11:52 pm


    I’m with Raethe on the handwriting a first draft. I find if I sit down at my computer I get too focused on formatting and spelling which inhibits my stream of thought. On my handwritten pages I don’t care about spelling, complete sentences, even complete thoughts, as long as the idea gets put down. Then I can usually clean that all up (really a first edit) when I sit down to type it into a word processor.

    Beyond just getting away from my computer, I’ve actually found I need to get away from my apartment. There are just too many distractions that eat up my time instead of placing pen to paper.

    The ritual I had gotten into for a while was to hike the half mile down to the local sandwich shop, get lunch and a refillable soda, write for a while even if just a handful of pages, eat lunch and then head home. It functioned as some exercise, distilled the work down to just the pages in front of me, and I got a sandwich as a reward for the effort. Didn’t hurt either that the library was only a block away in case I wanted to do some research on the way to or on the way home.

    Unfortunately the three schedule changes that I’ve had at work in the last 5 months has tossed me out of my habit. The cubical pays for my writing habit, but mucks it up just about as much.

    RVS: if you like to work linearly, perhaps you should carefully outline your stories before you get caught up in the exact wording of the first paragraph and then the second. Outlining does not work for me. I often will write out what seems like completely unrelated scenes including the ending, and then will work out how to get from one to the next, usually in reverse order. This gives a nice flow of cause and effect if I work from the desired effect back to its cause.

    Deadline pressure is vital to getting anything done. Since I’m writing screenplays as opposed to novels, I’ve decided to use a film festival this coming September as a goal for getting my first short film produced. Oh, and also telling others about your deadline tends to keep you motivated to actually keeping that deadline. Did I mention the film festival? Jeez, now I guess I’ll just have to make this film!

    Posted by Karl
  13. May 27, 2008 @ 7:10 am


    For those that need deadline pressure, but have no source for it, I’d like to share what worked for me. libertyhallwriters.org is a free, online writers community that offers writing challenges. Each challenge typically begins with a trigger or writing prompt that must be included in the story you write. You then write and submit the story before deadline. After the stories are posted, everyone critiques each other and ultimately votes for best story, best arc, best setting, etc. Some challenges are anonymous, some aren’t. In the flash challenge, your deadline is 90 minutes, the short story challenges are two weeks. They also hold polish challenges where there is no trigger. You just submit something you think is ready, and it goes through the same review, critique, voting cycle. They also have adhoc, as well as other types of challenges, so there’s always something to do. It’s great for beginning writers, or writers trying to get re-kick-started (like I was). Some regularly published writers use the challenges as a way to replenish their short story pool. The critting is polite typically. They just ask that if you are going to participate, you have to crit other folks writing too.

    A sister site to liberty hall is notebored.com. Notebored is typically slower paced, has similar challenges (but not the ninety minute one!), and they also add in something liberty hall doesn’t: small groups reading and critting each other’s novels.

    Both libertyhallwriters.org and notebored.com are great sites, with some great folks. Both sites are closed communities requiring userid and passwords, and so posting stories there does not qualify as “published.” Though “closed,” it’s not difficult to get membership at either site, and again, they are free. Participating on both sites helped me a lot. It’s not for everyone, but for some folks, it’s the ticket.

    @Moderators (aka Dan, Howard and Brandon): if you’d rather me not post something like this, please feel free (as I’m sure you would!) to edit this out, and just let me know.

    Posted by Guerry
  14. May 27, 2008 @ 8:17 am


    This is somewhat pathetic, but my answer turned out to be Mt. Dew. I went full-time in February and found myself with a spotless house instead of productive work. My husband and I worked out a system – I needed to complete “X Pages/hours” per week to keep my ‘job’ (otherwise I have to get a cube job which is my horror of horrors) and “higher X pages/hours” to get a Mt. Dew at the end of the week. Suddenly, I’m really productive…I adore the stuff.

    Caution: do not write for ‘item’ but for the things the podcast mentioned. I love writing and if I don’t write for a few days I become very cranky. My problem early on was sitting my butt in the chair. I found that once I sat and my pen touched the paper, I was good for hours. The Mt. Dew was enticing enough that I sat. My desire to write took care of the pages and hours.

    The quota also needs to be evaluated once in a while to make sure it’s still a challenge. For me, the lower number accounts for the fact that I do all the shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc. The higher is what I can accomplish if I don’t goof off. If X pages/hours begins to be easy, consider upping it. Also, you may consider lowering it if your situations change. For example, I can only edit for about three hours before I go batty…but if I’m writing the first draft I can do six or seven easy.

    And having my husband evaluate my performance at the end of the week is critical. “But honey, I made four batches of jam…I’m only three hours short.” “Yep, and you spent five hours playing Final Fantasy XII. Maybe next week.” Last week I didn’t get the Mt. Dew. You can bet that’s not going to happen this week.

    Posted by Amity
  15. May 27, 2008 @ 8:23 am


    This podcast was incredibly timely for me, especially the parts about balancing writing with your day job. That particular topic has been at the top of my thoughts over the last couple of months–in fact, I might have even been the one who posted that question here in the first place.

    I have characters and situations that I’ve been sitting on in one form or another for more than a decade, but have never taken the time to sit down and write out. Over the last few weeks I have finally managed to plot out a coherent storyline. Just last night I blogged about how my intention is to complete a first draft this summer while the kids are out of school and I can stay up later at night writing. My own inspiration to keep writing is going to be putting a word count meter on my blog that I will update after every writing session. If it doesn’t change, my friends will give me grief. Exposing myself to potential ridicule if I don’t write is a form of schedule pressure, neh? :-)

    It was a pleasant surprise to come here and find a topic so near to my own recent thoughts discussed, and it’s inspired me to go home tonight and get started on my draft. I’m definitely looking forward to being able to print the finished story out and hold it in my hands. Thanks, guys, for another great episode. Keep ‘em coming!

    Posted by Sam
  16. May 27, 2008 @ 3:03 pm


    One thing you glanced off but didn’t really address was priorities. I write in my spare time, but like Dan, I have a day job where much of my creative energy is spent in my writing headspace–or rather, editing headspace. When I come home, honestly the last thing I want to do is to read or write anything–whether someone else’s book or my own.

    So I’ve been working a little at a time on a book that may never get finished. And I’m okay with that, because writing isn’t at the top of my priority list. I’d rather go to my guitar lesson (or tinker with my guitar), weed the garden, talk to a friend on the phone, write in my blog (which I consider working, really), etc.

    So for me, a big part of whether someone can get past a writing block is if the writing is near the top of their priority list. For me, some months, the writing is further toward the top of my list than others. During vacations, sometimes it’s top of the list, and sometimes it’s waaay at the bottom. But where that writing is on the list will determine whether I write on a regular basis or not. And that’s okay–because I don’t consider my writing as important as my job at this point in my life. And priorities can change at different seasons of life, too.

    Posted by stacy
  17. May 27, 2008 @ 6:24 pm


    Following the last Life, the Universe, and Everything, I decided enough was enough. It was time to get serious. So, I resolved to get up at 5:30 and write until 7:30 (six days a week), and then cut gaming out of my life in the evenings and during lunch at work (I admit, I do miss Puzzle Quest, but the other gaming is hardly missed at all). It’s amazing how much I can accomplish, even with family, work, church, and all the other stuff that takes up time. Not surprisingly, the most productive time of day is in the morning.

    Posted by Hezekiah
  18. May 27, 2008 @ 6:33 pm


    I agree with a lot of what you are saying Stacy, but I also think that if you really want to have a writing career, then writing needs to become a priority.

    But that could be a whole topic in itself about have a writing career as a priority or understanding that it is really just a hobby. Hobbies are lot easier to put aside than jobs.

    I like that Brandon pointed out in this post that he used his vision of an exciting ending to drive him to finishing the project. I’ve found that I get really excited about story beginnings and then lose my interest as the story passes the beginning. So I think it’s good advice to begin with the end in mind to help push the story forward.

    Posted by 42
  19. May 27, 2008 @ 10:25 pm


    @42:

    I found out that the idea of an exciting ending can be a mixed blessing for me. Mind you, I am only a hobbyist writer, and things might be quite different for a professional, but…

    Here’s what sometimes happens: I start writing with a good solid idea of the beginning, the middle, and the end, plus some ideas for scenes inbetween. But around the time I write the middle of the story my ideas for the end have become so vivid, so “alive” in my mind that I no longer actually feel the need to write it. The end already exists in my head in bright, technicolor colors, with all the tension and drama I could ever wish for. Since I am under no pressure from a publishing deal (or the desire to publish) my writing loses momentum at that point. Why go through the pain of giving birth, when, in a way, my child is already alive, so to speak?

    I know it may sound crazy, but when I know I could write the most beautiful, exciting end to my story is really the moment when I am most prone to lose my interest in actually writing it.

    Posted by Andreas
  20. May 28, 2008 @ 12:28 am


    Andreas: Time to fish or cut bait.

    I have a friend who is the master of creating wonderful opening scenes. But he never seemed to be able to finish a project. Then he’d be off starting the next opening scene for another story.

    I think you are cheating yourself, and more importantly, your readers if you don’t finish your stories. Show your work to others and you will find the desire to finish them. Hard to get the technicolor memories expressed to someone else if they are trapped in your head!

    Since I’m a film maker I have to say there is no better feeling that to watch a room full of silent people engrossed in the work that I created. It works just as well with letting friends read my scripts.

    Do yourself and the rest of us a favor: finish your work and share!

    Posted by Karl
  21. May 28, 2008 @ 12:52 am


    Rough notes, a summary, something . . .

    http://mbarker.livejournal.com/71803.html

    Enjoy — and thanks.

    Posted by Mike Barker
  22. May 28, 2008 @ 3:01 am


    Awesome podcast, as always really.

    I particularly liked Dan’s experience of what spurred him to overcome writer’s block – the endings. That’s exactly the sort of thing that I’m going through right now with a concept I have for a story and every time, that I think about how each individual character will end up and what will lead up to that ending, I always somehow manage to get my butt on the chair and hands on the keyboard.

    Or similarly I was giving drawing a try recently and I still need to learn how to make the pictures on a more timely fashion. But the same thing that happens to Dan happens to me – when you lift that drawing up and realize that you did this, even if later on you recieve valid criticism on how it could maybe be improved, you can’t help but feel satisfied every single damn time. :)

    Thanks again and I really hope you guys keep these podcasts up. You have no idea how helpful this is in a time when so many universities and schools only teach their students the ideas behind artistry, but sometimes completely forget to teach them the necessary skills to be good at what they do (the Mac Hall webcomic pretty much illustrated it nicely). Writer’s block is one such example of where skills come into play – I’d give my arm for a university in our country that could teach you what you guys just stated in 15 minutes.

    Posted by Lenart
  23. May 28, 2008 @ 6:47 am


    @Mike: Thanks for doing the summaries! My week is crazy and I may not get to my personal notetaking, so you’ve saved the day again.

    Posted by Guerry Semones
  24. May 28, 2008 @ 1:37 pm


    I would like to add an “Amen!” to Lenart’s comments. I have an English degree–admittedly it is an English Literature degree, not a creative writing one, but I did have a creative writing class or two.

    Anyway, I think I have learned more about writing fiction from these podcasts than I did during all my years in school. That either says something significant about me, or about my education. Or both, I suppose.

    Posted by Hezekiah
  25. May 28, 2008 @ 5:03 pm


    Is anyone else only hearing the first 5 seconds of this podcast? I tried downloading and listening online, same effect. Broken File?

    Posted by Maven
  26. May 28, 2008 @ 6:26 pm


    what about ploting? I know its important and if you already have it, would’nt that help? I was always under the impresion that if you had it all plotted out you would already have a begining, middle, and end. One would only need to connect them and polish it up. Or did I misunderstand entirely?

    Posted by Ben
  27. May 28, 2008 @ 10:11 pm


    Ben, as I see it, having the main plot points nailed down is like planning the route you’re gonna drive along on a road trip. You know where you start, where you want to go to, which highways to use, and so on. But planing all that won’t prevent you from getting a cramp in your leg while you drive all those long miles, or from getting distracted by something you see at the roadside.

    What I think was meant with an “exciting ending” is that you find something about your destination you can look forward to so much that it helps you ignore the distractions by the wayside, the cramp in your leg, and just drive on. I’d say it’s a lot more about motivation than ploting.

    Posted by Andreas
  28. May 28, 2008 @ 10:39 pm


    Maven – nope, no problems here.

    Ben – I agree with Andreas. Actually, there’s a quote from … okay, I forget who it was from, and the exact wording of the line escapes me, but it matches what Andreas just said pretty much exactly: Writing is like driving on a highway at night. You know where you started from, and you know where you’re going, but you can only see as far as the headlights in front of you. It’s a quote that I’ve found very helpful in the past, actually, one I keep coming back to.

    Having an outline of your plot certainly helps, but I don’t know how many authors actually plan out every little detail before they sit down to write. You might have a point A, B, and C, but you might not always know how exactly you get from one point to the next. Plus, “the best laid plans”… I find, at least, that even when I thought I knew how I was going to get from A to B, sometimes I end up changing things, doing things differently, ectetera.

    Actually – and maybe this is just coming from someone who really hates outlines (not that I’d ever start a novel without at least a minimal one) – I sometimes find that HAVING a firm outline can cause a problem. Or at least, it causes problems when the characters come into conflict with the plot – sometimes it’s just bloody difficult to get them to do as they’re “supposed” to. I’ve actually had days where I’ll sit down to write, get really into what I’m doing, write out a scene that I’m -really- happy with in terms of character, prose, whatever – and then reread what I’ve written and realize that the character has done something that’s totally not in the plot. Or worse, directly counter to what they’re supposed to be doing in said plot. That’s when I -really- have problems figuring out how to get from point A to point B.

    Hmm, okay… Now I’m curious. Anybody ever had that happen? Sat down to write something, and realized only after, or in the midst of, writing a scene that their characters have taken on a life of their own, to the detriment of the plot? What do you do then? (I tend to whine, curse, and throw things, because I’m professional like that.)

    Seriously, though, any thoughts?

    Posted by Raethe
  29. May 29, 2008 @ 10:53 am


    Raethe, this is something that happens to me all the time. When I start writing a scene I know my characters will face a certain wall, but I have no idea if they will decide to climb over that wall or look for a way around it. That’s a decision I leave to my characters.

    And you know what? I like it – a lot. Those moments when the characters surprise me are the moments when they really come to life. They are not so much spoiling my plot as finding their own unique way through the plot. Th0se are the moments when they take on a life of their own that goes beyond what my conscious mind could think up – and that’s what I like about it.

    Also happens to me at times with minor characters who suddeenly demand their place in the spotlight, instead of being listed as “also ran”.

    Now, what do I do to deal with it? I just roll with the punches my muse throws at me and go with the flow. It may not work for everybody, but my personal opinion is that sometimes a story deviates from our plans because the story demands it. And telling a good story is what we all want to do.

    But if you feel something you have written derails your plot, one suggestion I can offer is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Don’t dwell on how you can go from A to B. Ask yourself if the whole story can still go from A to Z, even given the curveball your characters may have thrown you.

    But I have a feeling that the way we write might be kinda similar, so I would say you should just go where your muse leads you and write about that. Allowing your characters their own voice, when they demand it, can help to bring them to life, and that can never be a wrong choice IMNSHO.

    Posted by Andreas
  30. May 29, 2008 @ 11:08 am


    So, for the writing prompt. At the end of Stephen King’s book “On Writing” he has a writing prompt, so to speak, and has left it open for writers to take that writing prompt, fly with it, and send the resulting text to him. I don’t know if he really reads all of them, any of them, or just has someone else do it, but I thought it might be interesting–if you’re going to do this writing prompt thing on a regular basis (and because this is a “writing” website after all)–if you were to do a mini-contest for each one. Nothing big. Maybe: limit entries to 500 words, only accept the first 100 entries, randomly take five of those entries, and then post the entry/author name (if wanted) of the best one on the site. Might be fun. Just an idea.

    Posted by Dan Smyth
  31. May 29, 2008 @ 1:12 pm


    I’m doing it! Inspired by this week’s podcast I’ve managed to get motivated and have gotten 5,000 words written on my project over the last two nights. Thanks for the push, guys!

    Posted by Sam
  32. May 30, 2008 @ 10:20 am


    42, that was exactly my point. Writing, for me, is a hobby because it’s not at the top of my priority list. My day job, editing, is far higher on that list. If you want to have writing be your job, you have to put it up near the top of the list.

    Posted by stacy
  33. May 30, 2008 @ 1:41 pm


    Raethe-
    I have that happen all the time. In my plotting, pearsonally, I do NOT use an outline. But I usually I have Scene in my head and write it down, get another and do the same. Then all the sudden I have a plot, great. But as you said the character has suddenly come alive and just will not cooperate, Grrrr! The solution that works for me is that when a character comes to me, I write everything I know about them. make a past that will give them motivation to do what I want them to do. Part 2: is to that character and all others who will come and go is that I AM GOD, all things come from me and if they become troublesome kill them off. But only in my head.

    Posted by Ben
  34. June 1, 2008 @ 5:55 am


    [...] them out, it’s worth it. Start with Episode 16, because THAT contains a very important lesson to everyone of us. ;) geposted am 1. Juni 2008 in [...]

  35. June 2, 2008 @ 10:28 am


    Hmm. That’s an interesting one, Ben. I often find that when it comes to the point where I’m trying to MAKE my characters do anything – even if I go back to their backstories and give them a plausible motivation to actually do whatever it is I want them to do – but the instant I try to just MAKE one of my characters do something they don’t want to do, the whole scene after that falls flat.

    I’m with Andreas; when that happens I tend to bend over backwards to try and keep that particular portion of writing, because that seems to be when I get my best writing done – when I’m “with” a certain character, so to speak. It’s not really much of a question, for me. Often where I’ll run into walls (in fact, I’m there in my novel right now) is trying to make things that need to happen happen some other way, because once I feel I’m being false to the characters I’m pretty much done for.

    In other news, I concur – thanks for this podcast, it guilted me into putting the finishing touches on a novella that I’ve been working on for a while. XP

    Posted by Raethe
  36. June 8, 2008 @ 10:44 am


    Raethe, it seems like we both have run into the same situation more than once. If you’d like to talk about this more we can take this off this comment board. ABodensohn (at) aol-dot-com
    No skin off my nose if you don’t take me up on this offer, but I always enjoy talking about writing with another writer. :-)

    Posted by Andreas
  37. July 26, 2008 @ 10:03 pm


    Love the tips in this comment thread. Here is some of my own.

    Writing Prompt: Watch a film that uses a language you don’t know. It is important you don’t know anything about it. No dubbing or subtitles. Write down what you think is happening. Now flesh it out with your own imagination.

    Writing Prompt: Take a public domain work of fiction and write a “True Story” version of it. Choose a perspective not covered in the original work.

    Writing Prompt: Imagine your character going through the most humiliating moment in their life. Write it down.

    Public domain works can be found on this site: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page

    Writing Prompt: Find the names of ten countries that don’t exist any more and create anagrams of them.

    Writing Prompt: Look at the titles on Anthology Builder. Collect 10 of them. Break them down and create 10 new ones using the words of the titles. Scramble them up and have fun. Next write a 100 words story for each title you have created. Best avoid reading the short stories on anthology builder until after you done the exercise to keep from being front loaded.

    Here is Anthology Builder http://www.anthologybuilder.com/display_sql_stories.php

    Posted by JovasKig
  38. September 7, 2011 @ 9:54 pm


    Definitely enjoy these podcasts. This, like the rest was great to listen to. Suggestion: I couldn’t find “BICHOK” when I searched for it, and so I suggest you add that as a keyword to the article. “BIC HOK” is there in the text, but not as all-one-word. Thanks everyone!

    Posted by Joe Kawano
  39. November 5, 2011 @ 11:50 pm


    [...] my writing that I’ve ever done.  it has forced me to get Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard (BICHOK - as the Writing Excuses guys like to say.  You can listen to that episode HERE).  By the time [...]

  40. December 2, 2011 @ 1:00 am


    [...] den Stuhl, Hände auf die Tastatur.“, eine tolle Strategie gegen die Schreibblockade, die in dieser unverzichtbaren Folge von Writing Excuses vorgestellt [...]

  41. March 6, 2012 @ 6:13 pm


    [...] nothing else, employ the acronym coined by cartoonist Howard Tayler over at Writing Excuses: BIC HOK. “Butt in chair, hands on [...]

  42. July 11, 2012 @ 7:29 pm


    [...] Wish there was a chair there…  I’d be halfway to BICHOK. [...]

  43. October 18, 2012 @ 7:52 pm


    [...] folks over at Writing Excuses have a saying: “Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.”  The basic premise of this principle is that no matter how awful a day you are having, no [...]

  44. March 17, 2013 @ 12:18 pm


    [...] HOK: Howard Tayler. If you got the reference, click [...]

  45. April 4, 2013 @ 8:21 am


    [...] Butt In Chair. Hands On Keyboard. (No, I didn’t make that up.) [...]

  46. July 21, 2013 @ 6:19 pm


    [...] HOK: Howard Tayler. If you got the reference, click [...]

  47. August 5, 2013 @ 11:16 am


    To get myself to write, I listen to this podcast right before! Thanks guys!

    Posted by Jen
  48. March 12, 2014 @ 12:04 am


    […] 1.16: Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard […]