So you’re cruising along in your work-in-progress (WIP). The muse is singing. Ideas are popping. Words are flowing. Until …
Suddenly you hit a bump. Or maybe a roadblock. Or a cement abutment.
You try to persevere; but the muse has gone silent, inspiration has ceased, and you just don’t know where to go next.
The technical term for this experience is SYW (“spinning your wheels”). It happens to all of us, and it’s especially common in the middle of a thing—manuscript, chapter, article.
But at some point early in my many years of writing and publishing, I stumbled on a simple writing trick that has served me well at such times. So I thought I’d share it in the hope that it might help others (and that, when it does, those folks would send me money and donuts).
I call it BO (“backward outlining”).
Please don’t stop reading. I hate outlining as much as anyone. And I do it—usually. Sometimes my outline is more detailed and sometimes less so. Sometimes it’s so much “less so” as to be nonexistent. It’s there, more or less. In my head. I thought. Until …
So, when I hit a bump, roadblock, or abutment in a piece of writing, I’ll print out what I’d written already and then, on a sheet of notebook paper (I go old school for some tasks, and this is one example), I’ll “backward outline.” That is, I’ll read the first few paragraphs and then list the main points. I’ll do this repeatedly, until I reach the point where I got stuck.
Almost always, this simple exercise reveals that either I hadn’t been following my outline—or that I wasn’t even working from an outline, and therefore the sequence of my thoughts got OOW (“out of whack”). Once I (belatedly) do the work of rearranging the progression of thoughts into some sort of cohesive order, I TMTBML (“tuck my tail between my legs”) and get back to the WM (“writing machine”).
Sure, there may have been times when the backward outlining didn’t solve the problem, but I can’t recall any. Maybe that’s because the mere action of taking a break from the screen, changing media, and getting a BEV (“birds’ eye view”) of the WIP was what I needed. But I figure, IDMATM (“it doesn’t matter all that much”). It got me back on the right track, regardless.