The Hat Trick – (The Writing Trick That Helps Me)

I read a blog post today (by Ali Luke) that claimed to have 10 writing tips and tricks you hadn’t heard before. I’m not here to debate whether her claim is accurate. I’m here to add one to it.

I recently put aside the third book in a series to begin working on an idea that wouldn’t be quieted. Every established writer I’ve ever talked to has said not to let yourself be enticed by shiny new ideas or you’ll never finish a project. I agree, to an extent. But when that shiny new idea keeps you up nights and distracts you to the point of missing your bus stop, maybe it warrants a deeper look.

Anyway, I put aside my WIP and began note-taking, planning, outlining, etc. for my shiny new idea. I have a Moleskin filled with everything from character sketches to dialogue, scenes to conflicts and resolutions. I began writing it. Part way in I realized I was flailing, but not for the normal reasons. Usually, a writer flails because he/she didn’t fully understand the book’s concept or theme before starting, or they didn’t outline and are beginning to lose the threads of the story, or a number of other reasons. In my case, I began flailing because, A) I am writing in a genre I have never written in before and did not map out the details as well as I should have for this particular genre, and B) I’ve never had an antagonist as a main character.

The story didn’t start out that way. Not that it hasn’t been done before, but an antagonist as the main character is the exception not the rule. So here I have this guy taking over the story. No big deal. I’ll just revisit my outline and adjust. But the problem I’m having now is I don’t even want to write the protagonist’s scenes. Seriously, next to his scenes, hers are boring. Spicing up her scenes isn’t really an option at this point because I feel it would take away from him and he’s just too good to let that happen. Besides, her scenes were well-planned and SHOULD remain as they are. So, what to do?….

The following writing tip works for this type of problem, but it would work for many other writing issues/roadblocks as well. All you have to do is commit to follow one simple rule.

Let me regress for just a moment. I use Scrivener. Once I have the scenes (outline) all typed out, I go to Corkboard view. I make the “cards” smaller and screenshot the board. (Screenshotting will maintain the corkboard appearance while going straight to print will print it out long form.) Then I print out the screenshot and cut the scenes apart. This would work with whatever program you use, the whole idea is to separate the scenes while keeping them as small as possible.

I then fold each scene card in half and place it into a hat (box, Tupperware container, etc.) Here comes the only rule to follow: You have to write the scenes in the order in which you pull them out. Pull them one at a time and write. You will still dread writing the “hard” scenes, but you will be much more inclined to do it and get it out of the way. Without pulling from a hat, I am inclined to write the scenes that I am the most excited or passionate about leaving me with the ones I was dreading. This way, if you follow the one rule, you won’t be filled with panic when at the ¾ mark you’re left with a handful of scenes you just can’t write.

Here is an example:


I have 52 scenes in my outline. The first several chapters were already written, so I excluded them from my hat pull.

It might take a little stitching together when writing them in a non-linear fashion, but that’s what revision is for. I’ve heard writers say when they’re stuck they alter something about their approach. Maybe they write with their non-dominant hand, or begin writing at the bottom of the page and work up, or type out a few scenes instead of writing longhand or using a computer. Whatever it takes to kick the right brain in the pants and put it to work, right? And hey, if sitting under a pear tree in your bathing suit while sipping Mimosas is what does it for you, no one has to know.

I hope Ali Luke doesn’t mind me piggybacking on the tips she offered (link included at top of post), but they were worth repeating. Sometimes, it’s the tips that get us through when we feel lost….

Give it a try and let me know what you think! Happy Writing!

K.E. Garvey is the author of several fiction novels: The Red Strokes, and Run Like A Girl and Cry Like A Girl from the “Like A Girl” series. Click on the cover to check them out.

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