I was going to do a sort of follow up to my poll from last week about protagonists, and tie that in with Davin's recent discussion of sincerity and Lady Glamis' discussion of honesty, but I've been sick this week and I'm still not feeling quite right in the head, so I'm going to just fall back upon some practical advice for first drafts.
I'm reaching a stage in my own first draft where I've essentially already discovered the main things about the characters and the story and I'm sort of doing mechanics, by which I mean that I'm writing scenes that set up the inciting incident at the end of Act One. It remains interesting reading, I think, but on the writing end it can be more like playing a game of chess (strategizing and suchlike) than, say, falling in love. If you know what I mean. If you don't, bear with me and take my word for it that the similes above are fantastically accurate but I'm still too dragged down by illness to explain why.
Where was I? Oh, yes: I am at a place in my first draft where writing is now a lot like work and not a lot like artistic visionary trance, and I'm really laboring to start each scene. In fact, I find myself thinking about avoiding the draft because right now the work is hard work and I'm essentially a lazy old man. I sit down to my notebook, pen in hand, and don't know what to write because I think the next scene is going to be a real bitch, so I go off and make myself a cuppa or throw in some laundry and in the end I don't write anything at all.
The best way I have found to combat this is to simply write the next word down, even if it's the wrong word. In fact, the less likely the word is to be the right word, the better. For example, I'm writing a story about two men in Colonial America, so if I need a scene about these two going to a tavern to meet a third person but I have no point of entry into the scene, I'll write down something like "peacocks" because that's so obviously not the right word. But then I make myself finish the sentence that begins with "peacocks" because nature abhors a vacuum and I abhor an unfinished sentence in a manuscript.
Why does this help me? Because it usually forces me to come up with the right words. Sometimes it takes a paragraph or a page of rubbish about peacocks, but writing about the wrong stuff for a few minutes reminds me of what the right things are for that particular passage, and I'm able to bring the writing back into focus and get on with the scene.
Sometimes, the clearly wrong idea will spark something cool, too, and suddenly I'll have a brilliant passage about peacocks that I'd never have put in originally. The argument could be made that I chose "peacocks" or whatever because, subconsciously, this is really what I wanted to put into the book at this point, but I don't care about that because the trick is to get writing again and if I've tricked myself into writing something I subconsciously thought should go into the book, then well done me, right?
The larger point, of course, is that books are written one word at a time, and there is nobody but you to add those next words, so you have to do it all by yourself. I believe Neil Gaiman had some inspiring thoughts about just this very thing, and possibly later I'll find a link to them. No matter.
If you are stuck, then just write the next word down, even if it's wrong. Even if it's "the next word." Simply having something there on the page forces you to think about the story, and the more wrong what you've got is, the better your chances of correcting it with something that's right.
Anyone have any other simple but effective tricks for getting past those momentary "I have no idea what comes next" pauses in our writing, especially during first drafts?