What to do when you write yourself into a corner

I first heard the advice during NaNoWriMo a few years ago: Always stop writing while you still have ideas so you’ll have a starting point for the next day.

It’s excellent advice. We’re told not to tap the well dry — leave a bit of water today to prevent inspirational drought tomorrow.

Too bad I rarely follow the advice.

My typical routine is to pluck halfheartedly at the keyboard in the early stage of my day’s writing. After a while, I strike a bit of inspiration and write until it fizzles out. Then I snap the laptop closed for the day.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This was my system … until two weeks ago.

I was proofreading a page with advice columns and horoscopes when a light bulb flared.

Horoscopes offer a universal scenario in vague terms, with just enough specifics to make the scenario applicable to any person’s life.

Or … any character’s life.

As I edited the horoscope page, the thought occurred to me: Each day, I write myself into a corner before I close the laptop. I write until I run out of ideas, and the following day I struggle to find the next nugget of inspiration.

Meanwhile, every day, the newspaper offers twelve nuggets of inspiration.

Horoscopes are vague enough that they can easily be incorporated into a novel or story as a starting point for inspiration.

For example, in the Feb. 27 paper:

  • You will be disappointed by someone who reneges on a promise.
  • A preoccupation with professional responsibilities will take its toll on an important relationship. Friction is likely unless you make a focused effort to nurture what you’ve got. Re-evaluate what’s most important to you.
  • Your sense of humor and quick wit will lead to greater popularity. Others will be startled to see how entertaining you can be.
  • You’ll face a minor disagreement. Do your best to keep the peace by making concessions.

These scenarios are universal — they can take a dozen different forms. For instance, a reneged promise can be as simple as a parent saying, “We can’t go to the movies like I promised. I got called in to work to cover for a sick co-worker” or as complex as a spouse breaking a marriage vow.

We can take any of these tidbits and write them into our stories. A room of twenty writers could insert a scenario in twenty different ways to create twenty distinct stories. Even though they share the same vague basis — a broken promise, professional preoccupation, a minor disagreement — they are different scenarios in the end.

That’s the beauty of horoscopes. Just specific enough to offer a starting point. Just vague enough to be universal.

Next time you need inspiration or write yourself into a corner, turn to the horoscopes page in the newspaper and challenge yourself to insert one into your writing. It might be the breakthrough your plot needs.

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3 Responses to What to do when you write yourself into a corner

  1. trinitygrau says:

    Interesting! I find that instead of forcing myself to write a minimum, I just write as much as I’m inspired to and keep going while the inspiration is still flowing through me. Otherwise, I might end up with a dry brain.

    Like

  2. Ray Yanek says:

    I just read something today that suggested writing until you feel like you are down to your last sentence. Don’t write that last line then, until you are ready for bed. The thinking is that your subconscious will work over that sentence through the night and should be easier to find what comes next in the morning. Sounds good on paper and I think I’ll give it a try…

    Maybe tonight, I’ll give it a try with a horoscope! That really is a fantastic idea for a story starter. Ingenious actually. Mind if I use it next year in my Creative Writing class?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I could buy into the idea that writing the last line before bed makes the next day easier. I may give that a try — thanks for sharing! Let me know how it works for you, too, if you test it.

      Please do use the horoscope idea in your class — I’m happy to contribute.

      Liked by 1 person

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