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End at the Beginning

    So you’ve got this huge toolbox. Packed with wrenches and hammers and screwdrivers and every imaginable item of easily portable handyman apparatus you can think of.

    It’s a magical toolbox. Actually, a better word would be cursed. Every time you grab a tool, there’s a chance it’s not the right one for the job after all. You want an allen wrench, you grab an allen wrench, but then it doesn’t fit the bolt. You realize that you need a crescent wrench instead. So you put the allen back and grab a crescent–but wait! Now the bolt has become a Phillips screw. You desperately yank the screwdriver from the toolbox, praying that the damn thing will stop morphing long enough that you can finish this part and move on to the next.

    Sound like a nightmare? Yeah. Welcome to being creative.

    One thing almost all creative folks have in common is that we are constantly scrambling to find new tools for the current work in progress. Some folks manage to lock into a routine that, repeated into rock-solid habit, provides a reliable path through the maze.

    That’s not my style, in case you’re wondering.

    I’ve tried doing the set schedule–up at eight, writing by nine, break at eleven, every day, no matter what–doesn’t do anything but mess me up with guilt over not doing it “right” when I inevitably sleep in after a night of insomniac hell. I’ve come to accept that I have no real control over my mornings. If I’m awake before ten it’s a miracle. If I’m awake before noon it’s a damn good start to the day. Trying to arrange a regular writing time for early afternoon fails just as hard, because inevitably that time gets eaten up with email, paying bills, phone calls, grocery store trips, doctor appointments, you name it. Mostly I wind up writing in the late evening, in bits and pieces, in-between shutting everything down for the day. It’s a bit of a chaotic approach.

    Same thing with the various routines–keeping a journal, freewriting for ten minutes, going for a walk, exercising, moving away from my desk to write–that are in many people’s toolboxes. Sometimes that stuff helps; other times it’s an allen wrench for a phillips screwdriver job. I never know until I try it.

    Three tactics have proven solidly reliable over the years, though. One is to read a chapter–any chapter–of the work in progress just before I go to bed. Another is to make specific notes about what I want to tackle next–a particular scene, adding in a cool visual I just thought of, checking for possible anachronism–and have those notes sitting beside my keyboard so I have to face them when I get up.

    The third is to end at a really interesting spot before I go to bed. One of my current favorite scene-ending WIP lines is a character demanding: You ruined my entire fucking life for Cafad Scratha? I couldn’t wait to come back and write the followup scene to that!

    It can also mean writing a tense line that begins a scene–then walk away and let it roll around in my head overnight. I did that last night: His hands burned as though being strangled by a hangman’s noose, each finger wrapped in aching spirals of strain. I’m side-eyeing that line this morning, but it’s been percolating all night. Meaning I’ve been thinking about the story all night. And I’ll be thinking about it all day today. So when I sit down to actually write that scene, there’s a good chance it’s already mapped itself out in the back of my head.

    Basically, my best success starts with the ending: where I choose to stop at the end of the day defines my road for the following day’s work. Ironically, the toughest part of writing a blog post, for me, is figuring out the last few lines. I never quite feel like I’ve wrapped things up properly. Maybe I should end on a cliffhanger for blog posts too?