Writing Advice: The Commonplace


When participating in National Novel Writing Month, it’s very common to hit a “wall” in your writing. People often talk about the “second week slump” that comes with the realization that you’re in this for the long haul and have a long way to go yet. But even if you aren’t participating in the crazy marathon that is National Novel Writing Month (and you can’t, now that November is over), you still be experiencing something like “the wall.” Your ideas have dried up, your inspiration has fled the scene, and you don’t know where to go from here.

If this kind of thing happens to me in my writing, I always find myself wanting a quick fix or something that I can do fairly easily in an attempt to get out of the slump. Normally I would say that there is no “quick fix,” but Tamora Pierce wrote a very helpful NaNo pep talk this past month that I think might help. In her pep talk, Tamora Pierce — author of the Lioness Quartet and many other books for young adults — suggests employing the commonplace in those tough writing moments that we all encounter.

First, she suggests “adding something short.” If you’re totally stumped on what to add, look at your character’s surroundings at that very moment in the story. Is there something that could fall on them? Is there something they could suddenly notice and connect to a painful memory? Is there something you can ruminate on for a short time that might spark your imagination to continue the story in a new direction? Study your scenes for these items if you’re feeling stuck and see where adding a short section about them takes you.

Next she suggests adding “something surprising, painful, or frightening to jolt your character into behaving violently.” As I’ve said many times before, your characters are the root of your story. When in doubt, have them react to something new or add in something that causes them to act. A great way to do this is to introduce something unpleasant to your character’s life. Then you can see how he or she deals with that something. At the very least, this will get you writing and exploring your character.

Finally, she suggests trying “something small.” If your character is standing in the lair of his or her enemy, have them start studying the shelves or something else. Perhaps your character will find something that is important to defeating the enemy, or something that would embarrass the enemy. Search for the commonplace items in your character’s surroundings that might cause them to act in a certain way or think certain thoughts. Those commonplace items that you may have overlooked before could lead you to writing something interesting you would not have thought of otherwise.

Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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