When I read at night, I’ve found I have this pattern . . . I finish a chapter wide awake, but when I’m about 2 pages into a new chapter, I’m asleep. Something about the signal of a break in the story gives me permission to doze off, I think. You ever experience that?
I’m finding the same is true in my writing. If a writing stint finishes too cleanly, I sort of doze off as I get started on the next section.
Some of the best writing advice I ever heard came from writer Ron Carlson, when he told our class of MFA students to stay at the desk even when you want that second cup of coffee. It’s advice I come back to again and again.
Today, here’s how I’m applying that wisdom to my writing life: I’m writing past the point where it feels logical to stop.
Here’s what I mean. I can often feel – now that I’ve practice this writing thing most days for several years – when there’s a lift in the tension of a work, a place where a section or chapter break feels right. I have used those breaks – until very recently – as the place to indicate where I could stop my writing for the day, after I’d finished my 1,000 words. But lately, I’ve been pushing past that moment just a bit so that I leave my work in the middle of some action. I’m finding that this practice makes the next day’s writing a bit easier to pick up, especially when 24 hours can feel like 80 years.
This morning, I came back to where I left off yesterday – a table had been flipped over, and one character was advancing on another. It took some real will power to leave off in the midst of the scene, but this morning, I was able to jump right back into the energy of that moment and not only finish that scene but continue into 1,000 words of others.
So that’s how I’m taking Carlson’s “stay past the second cup” advice. I’m setting myself up to write the next day in medias res. So far, so good.
How do you determine where you stop a day’s writing? Time? Word count? Some sort of nudge from the work itself? The plaintive cry of partner or child?