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Get and Keep the Words Flowing

November 17, 2013 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified November 17, 2013

I’ve been working on a couple of articles that deal with the nuts and bolts of sentences and grammar, topics such as the parts of speech and punctuation of compound nouns, but I just can’t keep on task.

Such  topics require attention to detail and examples and the inclusion of lots of information, some of it tedious to explain. And I just don’t want to focus on those kinds of details today.

Yes, like you, I have days when I don’t want to deal with the rules and the nitty-gritty and the tough stuff.

So instead I thought we’d talk about ways to prime the writing pump, methods for starting and continuing the word flow.

A week or so ago a writer and I were sharing writing suggestions and a few of those I shared had to do with getting started on a new project or chapter or  scene when you’ve run out of steam. I want to share those ideas and a few others for those of you who may be dealing with the same problem.

If you’re working on a NaNo project and you’re stuck, these can be greatly useful, especially if you don’t want to write nothing words just to meet your daily quota. But they’re helpful to any writer who doesn’t know where to go from where he is.

Most of these suggestions presuppose that the writer is in the creation and not the editing phase of a fiction project.


There are tricks to getting writing on a day when it seems that a starting place eludes. There are ways to add words, ways that work, that get you going. Proven practices that get the writing muscles flexing and stretching, the heart pumping, and the mind turning over.

Try any or all of these suggestions. They are in no particular order or rank.

The purpose is to get the words flowing. Once you begin, writing can lead to more writing.

Don’t think that you have to have a full scene planned out before you start writing—let the unfolding scene lead you. Give place to serendipity and not only planning. For long fiction, you need the precision of an architect’s plans, making sure that every element fits with the others to create solid and secure foundations that won’t rip apart, but you also need the free expression of a designer, allowing yourself to add creatively to an already firm foundation.

Don’t assume that you have to keep every word or scene or section that you write. Sometimes you’re just checking to see how a combination of elements works, as a designer might try different colors of paint or different combinations of textures or materials. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Such experimentation can lead to breakthroughs your rational mind might never conceive. Also, experimentation can help you decide which elements you don’t want to include.

It’s not a waste of time to experiment. If you’re stuck, try something unusual or wacky or far out. Doing so may produce the kernel of an idea that leads to a turning point for character or plot. Experimenting may provide the key, create the key, that ends up being the heart of your novel.

Be daring. Be original. Push beyond your typical boundaries.

Try something. Try anything.

Sometimes, when you’re stuck and have no idea where to take your characters and their story, sometimes you just need to write.

~  Don’t limit yourself to writing in chronological order or to writing in complete scenes. If you have an idea for a bit of dialogue for an unwritten scene, simply write the dialogue. If you know you want a certain scene between two characters, jot down some of the particulars about that scene. Once you get writing, even if you begin with only notes, you’ll find yourself filling in some action, some dialogue, maybe even some description. Without intending to, you’ll soon have half a scene complete.

Do this again and again.

Write out a few notes and then expand those notes. Don’t stop writing until you run out of words.

~  Write a few paragraphs of description, even if you’re not sure where you’ll ultimately put them.

Describe a building or room in your story world. Include scents and sounds. Describe it when it’s empty or when it’s full of people. Maybe both. Then describe another location as a contrast.

Describe the town/land/world. Imagine how a weather event (flood, snowstorm, hurricane) affects the place. Imagine how that weather event affects several characters. Write the weather event from the viewpoint of different characters.

~  Write a dramatic confrontation between characters before you even know what will precede or trigger it. Just make them fight. Build up the tension and conflict.

Separate lovers. Separate lifelong friends.

~  Write a scene of dialogue in which enemies plot together against someone else.

~  Write a scene of betrayal. Show your protagonist’s best friend betraying him to his nemesis. Load on the emotions. Load up the betrayal.

~  Write actions that one of your characters would never do and find a believable way to justify those actions. Something such as this can help expand your characters.

~  Write the fallout scene (for later in the story) from a setup you’ve already written. Or write the setup for a big scene you know you’ll need to eventually include.

~  Write a scene you’ve already completed but from the viewpoint of a different character.

Write the scene from the viewpoint of a character who is watching them but who wouldn’t normally get viewpoint duties. See if this doesn’t reveal something new about the characters and the scene and then add your new details into the original scene.

~  Write a scene in which your main character is utterly unlikable. Make her rude and dismissive and cruel and nasty. Make her inconsiderate. Make her a person you would not want to spend time with. Then devise a way to use her nastiness in a scene in your story.

Use it to run off allies. Use it when she must pretend she’s turned away from her past and embraced her enemy’s ways. Use it when she’s reached her end and decides to give up.

~  Write scenes of dialogue between characters you know will be talking to one another. Try putting the dialogue in different settings. Will the characters meet over dinner in a restaurant? Will they speak at a police station? Will they meet up at a store?

Decide which locations give you better opportunities to stir up conflict and lead to multiple follow-up scenes.

~  Write the inciting incident—what happens to get your story world turning? Write the inciting incident from the antagonist’s viewpoint. Does doing so help you decide what should happen next? Help you devise a scene for the antagonist that you hadn’t yet envisioned?

~  Write a turning point in the story—what might make your main character have to do something against his nature? Write a scene that causes your main character great pain.

Or create a tantalizing object or goal that the main character can’t resist—what would make her give up everything in order to pursue it?

~  What event makes your main character have to commit to some course of action? Write the event.

~  Who stands against your main character? Write a scene from that character’s viewpoint. You may not ultimately use such a scene, but it will get you into this character’s head, giving you information you can use later. This is, after all, a first or second draft. Much of what goes into a first draft doesn’t make it to the final version, so don’t worry if you don’t ultimately use what you include in these pages.

~  Write a scene in which your main character does something foolish. Illegal. Embarrassing. Play this to the ultimate—what would be most hurtful to her? Then write the character trying to hide what she did. Then write the fallout scene when someone she loves and/or admires discovers both what she did and the coverup.

~  Write a scene in which protagonist or antagonist has to apologize (or grovel) to a loved one. To an enemy. To a respected colleague.

~  Turn the computer off and write longhand. Don’t be distracted by events outside your story world.

~  Turn away from research and “true” setting details and simply make your characters interact.

~  Print a few pages of the story and type them again, as if they were new. See if simply writing doesn’t get you in the groove of the act of writing and the flow of the story.

~  Write a poem, an essay, a blog article, or directions for a common activity that you know well. Simply put your hands on the keyboard and start writing.

~ Write anything.

Write long flowing sentences and then break them with a short sentence of revelation or something that’s totally opposite to what you’ve been asserting.

Write a couple of pages on your philosophy of marriage or baseball or big business.

Write one sentence that’s over a page long.

Write half a page describing one person or place or thing that you can see or notice near you but do so without using adjectives.

Write a page in first person without using the words I and me.

Describe a color to a blind man. Describe the taste of a fruit to someone who can’t smell or taste.

Pick an object out of your desk or purse or from a book shelf and show one of your characters discovering it or using it.


These kinds of prompts can get you going, can get you writing. You may ultimately use what you write or you may not. Or you may not even get far with the stated purpose of the prompt—you may instead get an idea for another scene or for a plot thread that you can then follow. And that’s the true purpose of such prompts. Working on them gets the words flowing and that leads to ideas that fit your story.

Never think it a waste to simply write; almost any writing will make you a better writer, a stronger writer. Almost any writing will get you in the habit of writing. Almost any writing will prime the pump. Put some words together.

Start writing and keep at it.

Keep the words flowing.


Tags: , ,     Posted in: Beginning Writers, How to

10 Responses to “Get and Keep the Words Flowing”

  1. Eve Rabi says:

    Great article. Useful tips. :)

  2. Janet says:

    Some new, really useful tips there Beth. Thanks for the motivation! :-) So often articles come up with the same old info, but some of these are really interesting and can see how they would lead to a new direction with the characters. I like the one about making my main character extremely unlikable, rude and aggressive; that’s something I haven’t done with her before. Who knows where that will lead?! :-)

  3. Janet, sometimes it’s tough to come up with new suggestions. But the good thing is that a lot of the old suggestions do work.

    Have fun making your main character rude; I have no doubt you will come up with some tidbit you can use. Maybe you’ll find her channeling her own mother or someone else in her life when you allow her to let go. Who knows? That might lead to a major motivation for her behavior.

    I hope you find yourself writing productively the next couple of days.

    • Janet says:

      Thanks Beth – my character has good reason to really let loose and allow all that hurt and anger out, and I realize now, that I haven’t given her the space to do just that, which of course would be a perfectly normal reaction to her experience. Just channeling her true inner feelings would be out of the norm for her! Thanks again. :-)

  4. Rosi says:

    Some great new ideas in this post. Very timely. Thanks. I’ll be posting the link on my blog soon..

  5. I’m glad to be timely, Rosi. Thanks for the mention.

  6. Sandra says:

    How long does it take you to respond to potential customers? Do you give customers an estimate of your wait time? Would a customer know that you have their submission for sample editing?

    • Sandra, response time typically depends on my edit schedule. I’ve got a backlog of requests right now because current clients have been finishing quite a few manuscripts that have needed editing one right after another. When my schedule is light, I usually respond within a week or two. With the load I’ve had the last three months, response time has grown to a month or more. I do let a writer know when I begin the sample edit.

      I usually have time between edits, time to respond to e-mails, even if I can’t get to a sample edit right away. But with this unprecedented demand, most of my weeks this fall have been filled with straight editing. I’d be happy to look at your submission—if you shoot me an e-mail at and mention the blog in the subject line, I’ll be sure to look at it.

      I hope you haven’t had to wait too long—my apologies if you have.

  7. Sandra says:

    Ms. Hill:
    Thank you for your response. I wasn’t asking for special consideration, but did find it strange that a submission and a later email to were not responded to. If there had been a notice on the website stating how long a request might take, I wouldn’t have sent another email. I didn’t want to wait and then find out a month or so down the line that you’re backlogged for three months or that you didn’t receive the submission at all.