Nano Tip #5: Write Your Way Out


I’m on tour in Canada this week, so today’s Nano Tip will be a blast from the past. This post is from early 2005, when this blog was young and tiny. (It got a whopping seven comments, and I was well pleased with that.) And yet its ancient caveman wisdom is as true today as it was then!

So here it is again . . . “Write Your Way Out.”


People in writing groups often ask me, “What do I do when I get conflicting advice? How will I ever decide which way to go?”

My answer is: “Try it both ways and see which works! Don’t just write one ending, write three!”

It’s a medically proven fact: Writing the same scene several different ways won’t kill you.

Take a cue from visual artists. They make a hundred pencil drawings of a subject before even starting with the paint. They paint the same dang pot of flowers a dozen times, with only slight variations. They doodle in their sketchbooks all day, making stuff no one will ever see. But they rarely sit there and just complain about a compositional problem without putting their hands on a brush/pen/piece of clay.

In my second novel, Fine Prey, I actually wrote a scene that I knew wouldn’t be in the final draft, just so I could visualize what had happened “off screen” in the story. Weird, but it worked.

In another case, I lost a short story and had to write it again from scratch. Then I found the original again. (Argh.) Guess what? The combination of the two–taking the best elements of each–was better than anything I would have reached by fiddling endlessly with that lost original. And the experience of writing a story twice and then comparing the two versions helped me understand it in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.

You see, paper is magic: Making marks on it changes your brain. So, don’t sit around trying to think your way out of problems, write your way out of them. The best place to find answers is on a piece of paper or a glowing phosphorus screen.

Of course, thinking about writerly issues in the shower or while jogging is a fine habit to get into, because otherwise that’s just wasted time.* Please understand that I’m not against thinking; I’m only against thinking that thinking on its own will get you out of a hole. Shovel also needed.

*Except for the being hygienic and fit, which is somewhat useful.

So there’s my blast from the past. Don’t forget to check out Justine’s excellent tip from yesterday, and she’ll have tomorrow’s tip as well. I’ll be back on Saturday.

Ottowans and Toronto-ites, don’t forget to come see me, Holly Black, and Cassandra Clare tonight and tomorrow night. We have buttons!

with special guest Keith Thompson,
illustrator of Leviathan

Thursday, November 5th 7:00PM
Chapters Rideau
47 Rideau Street,
Ottawa, Ontario

Friday November 6th 7:00PM
Trinity St. Paul’s United Church
427 Bloor Street West
(Because this is an off-site event, admission is five Canadian bucks. You can buy the tickets right here. You can also pay at the door, if there’s any room left!)

And over the weekend, I’ll be appearing on my lonesome back in NYC:

Sunday, November 8 1:00PM
Thalia’s Book Club
Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre and Café
Symphony Space
2537 Broadway (at 95th Street)
New York, NY 10025

The Symphony Space series is aimed at young writers. There will be a discussion, a few slides, a short reading, and a creative writing prompt. Then lots of Q&A. I’ve never done one of these, but it sounds like a cool format. Go here to buy tickets.

Want a free ticket? Write me and say why, and I’ll see what I can do.

Click here for all my tour details. And click here to buy Leviathan.

40 thoughts on “Nano Tip #5: Write Your Way Out

  1. 1st post?!? Seriously? Wow.
    Not that I should be very surprised, though… it is three thirty in the morning and I have yet to come close to finishing my engineering programming project, though I have already put in a good 8 – 10 hours of work so far… grrr

  2. By the way… Once you’re done with Toronto, you could just take a quick hop, skip, and step over to Michigan, you know… 😉

  3. That is really great advice! I will definitely use that next time I am stuck.
    Here is a question for you Scott-la,
    When you are writing a book, do you imagine anyone reading it? Or do you just write?

  4. sometimes I write the other side
    like if certain charas aren’t present – what are they doing at the moment?

    but the basic skeleton of the story – what happens happens. in my writing anyway

  5. really good advice and applicable to more than writing…thanks.
    i think you’ll break 7 comments today.

  6. Great advice! And I looooove the last paragraph!
    I ALWAYS plot ideas in the shower/while jogging/during school lectures. 🙂

  7. I’m gonna try doing that. I’ve got an idea for a novel I want to write, and I’m going to start it in honor of NaNoWriMo. ( I’d say the idea, but someone might steal it ;D )
    That’s a good idea for the ending or dramatic scenes. Or any scene, really. Writing a few different ways and combining the best parts is something I’d never thought of!
    Ugh, I still haven’t looked at Justine-la’s blog. I keep forgetting until I check here, which I only do in the morning when I’m at school, and Justine’s blog is blocked here. Grrrrr.

  8. Man, I love these nano tips! (From both you and Justine… I’m reading Maureen Johnson’s, too!)
    I’ve actually written an off-screen scene before… It was very helpful, and also a lot of fun! 😀

  9. this is a really good tip. i’ve heard it before. im a sucky essay writer for school and stuff, but sometimes this helps me. like if i forget one of my paragraphs, i rewrite it then compare it to the original and combine the two, and it turns out so much better then the original. love the tip, can’t wait for the next one!

    and yes. taking showers is a pretty good thing.

  10. Nice advice!
    Like I said before…i’ve re-written my prologue so many times it hurts…maybe i’ll keep trying and hopefully will get just the right point of view.

  11. I just followed your advice without knowing it — wrote a different version of a scene with a sub-character instead of a main character. It’s all about getting stuff down (to fill my NaNoWriMo daily quota). And I really like Jill’s advice that what I’m writing should be considered the zero(eth?) draft. Takes some of the pressure off.

  12. Ooh, I like the idea of writing scenes that you know won’t end up in the book. It’s kind of like writing your own fanfiction, except you’re more than just a fan… authorfiction? 😀

  13. I know I plan on writing a scene that might not make the final cut (or might be a bonus chapter) because I’m wondering if I might get anything useful out of it after all. Plus it’ll help me make that 50,000 word mark, my theory on it is writer everything you might need and then edit like heck!

  14. I agree with all of these other people that posted, in that you should just write everything down even if you know when you’re writing it that it won’t make the final cut. It gives you more to work with, so that you can mold and shape all of that raw material into your final draft. It’s better than not writing enough and then you have to add scenes that kind of mess up your plotline. Like a sculptor, you start with a huge hunk of ugly marble, but then you can chisel it down into something beautiful. That’s just my opinion, and Samara-la, you’re not alone. I just noticed the smiley too.

  15. GUESS WHAT? IT’S MORE THAN 5 COMMENTS! 😀 (big grin)
    Just found a new smiley emoticon! U like? anyway, see you all later!

    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
    😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
    :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:
    😀 (big grin) 😀 (big grin) 😀 (big grin) 😀 (big grin)
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
    😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
    :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:
    😀 (big grin) 😀 (big grin) 😀 (big grin) 😀 (big grin)

    Reading and doing a presintation on The Outsiders tomorrow. Found a hilarious quote from Ponyboy’s older brother Sodapop! (For those of you who are reading this because you actually care about what I write in parenthesies, yes these are real names that I am NOT making up.)

  16. Darn! maybe it just doesn’t work anymore. Anyway heres the quote!

    “I am a greaser. I am a JD and a hood. I blacken the name of our fair city. I beat up people. I rob gas stations. I am a menace to society. Man do I have fun!” -Soda, ‘The Outsiders’

    It’s more of a chant actually, but I like it! Back to my work! 😀

  17. I’m still not sure whether to go on sunday or tuesday, where two other writers i love are there. Is sunday going to be reaaaaally abnormally cool?

  18. Oh, and in the past that has been very useful to me (like today, when I was writing an essay and my computer shut down, erasing all my work. I had to re-write it and it sounded better) but I’ve never tried it with short stories. Now I have to try it!

  19. Far more comments than you had last time….. 🙂 Yeah, I’ve written a lot of stuff that I know is nowhere near a final draft, but I keep writing to put all of my ideas out there. And sometimes I come up with funny little situations that don’t really matter but I write them for fun anyways. Thanks for the advise!


    Thank you!

  20. I’m slightly terrified, as the Toronto event is tomorrow, and my tickets have yet to arrive in the mail…

  21. I remember this post! I read it a couple years ago, when I was reading archives on this site. It came at the perfect time then, and again now. This is exactly what I needed to hear right now. Thanks for reviving it!


  22. The Ottawa event was awesome, Scott, thanks again for coming. I know that it was rainy and snowing, but what better way to welcome you to the capital, right? =P

    Anyway, I had a blast meeting all of you, and was incredibly and pleasantly surprised to find out Keith Thompson lives near me! That is so cool! Maybe I can get him to visit my school =D

    It was great to hear all of you speak, and I hope you decide to tour again to Ottawa when Behemoth comes out. I know it’s a ways away, but keep us in mind.

    Thanks again, and good luck on your solo show. I wish I could go to New York, but sadly I wont be able to go until the Spring (maybe do another workshop at that time? I would love to go, and I’ve got a class load of writing students that would love it as well).

    Good luck and all the best.

  23. Hello Scott!

    This more than a tad offtopic, but I was at your book signing tonight (I was the girl with the white hat who said Jaspart was her favourite character). It was wonderful meeting you, even though I was too flabbergasted to ask what is in the egg at the end but I figured you wouldn’t tell me anyways!

    I hope you come visit Ottawa again when your next book comes out.

    As well my friend in Waterloo wanted you to know that Leviathan (and Keith’s art) was being talked about in his science fiction class (He also says Vogler is his favourite). My Dad also wanted to ask if you chose the name Leviathan for the ship because it’s the naval jargon for a whale.

    Thanks again for coming to Ottawa!

  24. It was actually a giant fish that ate Jonah, so that’s probably a result of one of those not quite perfect translations, lol (translating it perfectly would be impossible…), but Lauren Guitar is right, a leviathan is a giant whale (like Moby Dick)… but how could the title NOT be a reference to that in some way, lol 🙂

  25. That’s really stellar advice, because I was having some problems with my story, so this will help oodles.

  26. Ya I thought this would work and another thing I always tried was Random constant writing and then find a sentence I like and use that to begin my writing because I find that begining is the hardest part at least for me.

  27. Oh, how I love you for writing this!

    “You see, paper is magic: Making marks on it changes your brain.”

    I agree wholeheartedly.

  28. Ping to Amy~la : me 2 i no exactly wat ur talkin about. i want to write but have no idea what to write about it kills me sometimes!!!

Comments are closed.