Finding the Next Line

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You have the story, but not the words. It’s a nasty form of writer’s block that feels like running through water in a dream, and it happens to us all. While there is no single, magical solution to any writing challenge, there are some clever and bull-headed ways to find that next line and commit it to paper.

Consider Setting

If you feel overwhelmed as you write, and the tension has you in knots, slow down. Consider the setting and start there. Throw out the writing rules and just write what you see for a hot minute. It doesn’t matter if it’s gripping prose.

Recenter yourself through the senses. What does the room smell like? How is the light? Are there conversations echoing off the walls or just your character’s thoughts? Look for the chipped paint around the window frame, the dusty blinds, or the bit of painters tape the new homeowners forgot to pull off the door before welcoming their first guest. Maybe the place looks great but smells bad, or maybe the bright decorations try fighting the lack of light. Are there windows? You have a whole world of sensations to explore. If your character goes barefoot, get a feel for the carpet, or marvel at the cat hairs sticking between the floorboards.

Play with Grammar

Grammar has rules, but it’s flexible. If inspiration refuses to visit your waking thoughts, turn your writing into a word game. Look over your last paragraph and see how many sentences follow the same pattern. Do you ever open with a prepositional phrase? How often do conjunctions appear? If you feel particularly daring, break out the intentional sentence fragments.

Ask questions, make demands, and see which puzzle pieces look better somewhere else. This game reaps double blessings. While it may crack your writer’s block, it also improves your technical skills, which are essential to every writer’s voice and style.

Pick a Word

The magical truth of first drafts is this: quality doesn’t matter. Great writing usually stems from great – and relentless – editing, so staring at a blinking cursor and praying the perfect words to drip from your fingers rarely works. Your first draft is the manure you use to fertilize later drafts. You need it, but it doesn’t have to smell nice. Leave that to the roses. They’ll bloom later.

In the meantime, just pick a word. Do it at random if you like. Open a book, flip to a random page, and skim until you find something useful. If you feel completely lost, helpless, and uninspired, close your eyes and point to a word at random. Start your sentence there and see if it fits. Does it work in the scene? Why or why not? Put those thoughts on the page and you’re on your way.

How do you find the next line? Have your words ever dried up before? Share your experiences and tips with other writers in the comments below. That trick you use to keep your fingers moving may just be the solution a fellow writer craves.

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