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Quick Writing Tip Number 1 – Build a bridge to the next day

Posted Sep 02 2013 6:42am

This is Number 1 in a new series of Quick Writing Tips: strategies and techniques that I’ve found helpful over the past few years and that I hope might be helpful to you too. There’s no rocket science here. Just some tried and tested ideas.

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Quick Writing Tip #1 – Prepare for a good writing session by building a bridge to the next day

This is probably the single most helpful thing I’ve ever implemented. Here’s how it happened.

Over time, I found that a good productive day was a day when I woke up knowing what it was that I needed to write next – a scene, a bit of dialogue, maybe even an entire chapter, a bit of description, a passage moving the action or characters from A to B. That kind of thing.

Then, one day, I was re-reading The Creative Habit by the choreographer, Twyla Tharp. If you haven’t got this inspiring book on your bookshelf yet, I highly recommend it. In it, Tharp writes:

Build a Bridge to the Next Day

The only bad thing about having a good creative day is that it ends and there’s no guarantee we can repeat it tomorrow.  One good day does not necessarily beget another. But there are ways to increase the chances of successive successes.

Ernest Hemingway had the nifty trick of always calling it a day at a point when he knew what came next. He built himself a bridge to the next day. I cannot think of a better creative organizational tool. The Hemingway bridge is how you extend a mini-groove…’

Right there, Tharp (with Hemingway’s help) succinctly communicates what my good days are all about. I’ve prepared for them and I know (roughly) what I’m doing next.

In writing terms (rather than choreography terms) I’d add that I’m not actually a detailed plotter and planner when it comes to writing my novels. I like to fly by the seat of my pants. My characters take on a life of their own and often dictate what happens next. But I do like to have some kind of vague map of where I need to go – from here to there, from A to B – even if this ends up changing.

But as I progress through a novel, I find my groove when I know what I’m writing next.

The flip side of this is that I have to build in some fallow time too, some creative dreamtime where it’s OK for me not to know what comes next. If I build that in, then I don’t get all stressed (OK, I don’t get quite so stressed) about not knowing when I hit those middle-of-a-book uncertainties, those How The Hell Do I Do This days.

Building a bridge to the next day – however wobbly or skeletal – works for me.

Have you tried this? If so, what did you find happened? I’d love to hear from you.

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