You’re driving at night. It’s been a long day and you’re feeling the strain. The thrum of tires on the highway is hypnotic, your mind strays off into the events of the day.  Your eyelids feel weighted. Surely it will be okay to let them close, just for an instant. It’s not like you’d be stupid enough to leave them that way.

A horn blares. Adrenaline pounds through your veins. Your heart leaps and you’re suddenly wide awake and back on the road, aware that you need to either stop and sleep or put on some music NOW, preferable something Metallic and loud with lots of screaming.

Been there?

How about this: you’re reading or revising your latest manuscript and you find yourself drifting away into thoughts of what you had for dinner last night or what you plan to wear to work tomorrow. With a jolt, you realize that you’ve just skimmed two paragraphs without any engagement of your brain whatsoever. Looking back, you see you’ve overlooked three typos and a grammatical error that could sink a metaphorical Titanic.

Lately, I’ve been learning to watch out for this. When it happens, I know one of two things are at play:

1. I’m tired. I need caffeine, I need to run around the house three times, I need to get some sleep.

2. I’ve hit a dead patch in the writing. This, I’ve been noticing, is the most likely problem. If I’m drifting off, chances are good anybody else reading this is going to drift off too.

To cure this problem, I’ve been reminding myself of the excellent writing advice from The Great Donald Maass: every scene must have tension. The character needs conflict and growth in every scene, even the one where she is driving from her house to grandmother’s with a basket of cookies.  It’s not enough that the scenery is interesting, or that she’s drop dead gorgeous and driving a candy red convertible. If she’s not changing in some way, large or small, during this scene – then skip it. If you don’t, most of your readers will.

Revision under this new principle has dramatically changed my story for the better. Little arcs of tension scurry here and there, all tapping into the main plot line at unexpected junctures.  This makes for more energy, better character development, and some interesting additions to the plot.

As I’m pretty sure I’m not the only writer with dead spots in the writing, I’m challenging the rest of you to observe your process and see whether the same is true for you.

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