Seven Strategies to Keep Momentum When You Don’t Have Time to Write

Over the past week, I’ve had a flood of freelance and contract writing—which is wonderful and fun, but makes it much more difficult to maintain momentum on my work-in-progress (WIP). Back in January, blogger Jill Kemerer wrote about how momentum is vital to success


I wholeheartedly agree. When I lose momentum on a project, I often dread returning to it. I know it will take me days to get rolling again, and I’ll be plagued by the ghosts of ideas that I meant to write but can’t quite grasp anymore. So how do you keep writing momentum when your time is limited?

Here are a few tricks that have worked for me:

  1. dropbox-150x150Keep your WIP nearby, whether as a printout on your nightstand (or, if you prefer longhand, your notebook and pen) or as an electronic file carried on your smart phone, iPad, netbook, or laptop. (I particularly like Dropbox for carrying my WIP on my phone. I don’t usually edit on the phone, but it’s great for when I have 5 minutes to re-read a chapter. More here.)
  2. If you use an outline, keep that with you in your computer bag, purse, backpack, or electronically like your WIP. I used to write scenes longhand on index cards—I like being able to rearrange plot elements manually—but I got tired of rewriting the cards every time I made a change. Now I type scenes into a Word template, print onto Avery labels (or onto paper, which I cut & paste, if I’m feeling more frugal), and paste onto index cards. Plot Cards
  3. End your writing time with a plan for the next writing session—a scene to work on or a question to answer.
  4. Keep a list of “short assignments”—plot questions to unravel, characters to explore, details to fill in—on index cards for 15 minute time slots.*
  5. Schedule brief brainstorming sessions throughout your day.
  6. collageCreate visual reminders of your story: a vision collage (more here, here, and here), a timeline posted on your wall, or even a picture on your computer desktop. The key is to pick image that will make you think about your characters and story. Even if you don’t have time to sit down and write, keep your subconscious working!


  7. Create a story shelf: a space where you can display symbols and memory-joggers for your WIP. For instance, for one project I had a shelf covered with a dragon figurine, a silver unicorn necklace, a magic wand, and coins. This project goes beyond visual reminders, giving you concrete symbols to manipulate.

What about you: what strategies help you keep momentum when your time is limited?

*Photo courtesy of andy_c on Flickr Commons

Page after Page**Inspired by Page after Page author Heather Sellers, a great resource for keeping momentum all the way through your writing project.

Monday Inspiration: First Sale Tales!

Last week, I got to participate vicariously in something wonderful and exciting: Twitter friend Jenny Torres Sanchez (@jetchez) on Twitter sold her first book! I read her announcement on Twitter and her blog recounting her initial reaction, and I basked in the shared joy.


On the road to selling a novel, “wins” can be few and far between. It takes a loooong time to write a book, and even longer to learn the craft required to write a good book. What keeps you going along the way? Jenny’s recent book sale reminded me that sharing other writers’ successes is a great way to stay energized and motivated, so I thought I’d collect tales of writers’ book sales here, stories of celebration for inspiration and encouragement.


Jenny Torres Sanchez: (from the PW announcement) Jenny Torres Sanchez’s debut GOODBYE, CHARLIE, pitched as John Green’s Paper Towns meets Sasha Paley’s Huge about a former fatboy’s struggles with food, an unattainable girl, and a falling-apart family, to Marlo Scrimizzi at Running Press Teens, by Kerry Sparks at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency(World). Read her initial reaction in her blog post “Good News”.

preachers brideJody Hedlund: Author of The Preacher’s Wife, from Bethany House Publishers. The title of her announcement post says it all “I GOT A BOOK CONTRACT!!!!!”

Jordan DaneJordan Dane: Author of No One Heard Her Scream shares how she sacrificed a body part for her first sale.

These stories were harder to locate than I expected. If you know of others, please let me know—I’ll add them to the list!

*Balloon photo courtesy of alibree on Flickr Commons.

When the Words Won’t Flow: Four Tools to Try

Stalled scene? Lagging action? Flat description? Sometimes when you’re writing it feels like there’s no way forward—and all you want in the world is to trade in your pen and paper for a nice, mind-numbing sitcom.


Most of the time, though, a scene stalls for one simple reason: you don’t have enough information. And that’s an easily-remedied problem. Try these jump-starts the next time your words won’t cooperate.

Engage the Senses
Take a few minutes to list sensations present in a scene: What does your character see, hear, feel, taste, smell? Ask how your character interacts physically with her environment—how the breeze flutters her sleeve, for instance; the way she sweats in response to heat; or the way her muscles ache from sitting too long in one spot.

Go beyond the obvious: What emotional mood do you want in the scene? Find details in setting and character description that will evoke that mood.

iStock_000011686411LargePlay the Movie
Find a quiet spot to sit back, close your eyes, and let the scene play out in your mind. Take the time to visualize details—and use that list of sensations you made above. Imagine your character’s movements through the scene, her reactions to unfolding events.

Go beyond the obvious: Keep in mind your character’s emotional state, level of confidence, fears, worries, hopes, and dreams. What is her starting point in the scene? Where will she end up, physically and emotionally?

Have the Conversation
Freewrite a page with nothing but dialog. Let your characters rant and argue and confess and apologize, following their lead through unbridled conversation. From this, pick and choose the pieces that are most telling, most gripping, most real. Pick the pieces that show character and move your story forward.

Go beyond the obvious: Your characters might say things to themselves—internal dialog—that they wouldn’t say aloud. Consider whether uncensored dialog that won’t fit in an out-loud conversation has a place in your character’s thoughts. 

Try On a Different Point of View
If your characters’ actions feel inauthentic, try talking to someone other than your protagonist. What does that secondary character want when he enters your scene? What is the villain thinking as events unfold? Sometimes looking through another character’s eyes will give you insight into how they will respond.

Go beyond the obvious: Remember that your antagonist is the hero of his story. What does she desire, fear, hate, or love? How are her wishes being thwarted? Finding ways to sympathize with your “villain” will let you create a more believable character.

fairy[11]When the Muse Speaks, Listen!
When you feel stuck, there’s always a reason. Sometimes, you need to figure out more about your plot, world, setting, or characters. In that case, pre-writing, brainstorming, mind-mapping, daydreaming, and other creative techniques can help you to find your way forward.

Even more important, when you develop the habit of answering blocks and doubts with action—like brainstorming setting and scene details—you derail your mental nay-sayer. She can stop jumping up and down and having hysterics. “Look,” you say, “we’ve been here before. We have a plan.” You’re learning to sidestep your inner critic—and that’s always a good thing.

:) Cheryl

Happy Valentine’s Day! …or: Ten Ways to Embarrass Your Characters

First: Happy Valentine’s Day! V-day happens to be my birthday…

Photo courtesy of terra in Virginia from Flickr Commons

…and it started me thinking. About how EMBARRASSING it was (when I was a teen and EVERYTHING my parents did was embarrassing) when my parents revealed my birthday.
Invariably, someone would say, “A Valentine Baby! How sweet!” And I would blush the same shade as all those frilly red hearts that seemed to decorate the WHOLE world for the SOLE PURPOSE OF EMBARRASSING ME.


Now that I’m older and much more mature, I can’t help thinking of ways I can use this memory to torture…I mean, breathe life into…my characters. I write about teens and pre-teens. And, in my experience, teens and pre-teens in the 21st century are just as prone to embarrassment as I was. Because, as every good writer knows, the more trouble you can cause your character, the more interesting the tale becomes.

Ten Ways to Embarrass Your Character

  1. 3921970684_5eac526cfd_zFamily. Think of nose-picking little brothers, older sisters who dress too provocatively, older sisters who dress too tamely, parents who drink, parents who wear matching holiday-themed sweaters…even the things we love most about our family can embarrass us. *
  2. Likes. What happens when your character is an anime freak—and anime is considered the most uncool interest in the entire school? And someone your character cares about discovers her anime interest? Perhaps your character loves chess but wants to join the popular crowd…or vice versa. At an age when conformity is paramount (even non-conformists tend to be non-conformist together), it’s hard to admit to an unpopular opinion.
  3. Dislikes. As with #2, it can be tough to be the odd one out—the kid who hates rock music or P.E. or the current to-die-for boy on the basketball team. Is there anything your character dislikes that he would hate to have discovered?
  4. Gender-bending interests. Perhaps your male character adores the art of flower arrangement or your female protagonist likes to ride dirt bikes. Thankfully, gender roles have blurred enough that this isn’t such a big deal today as it would have been…but don’t underestimate the power of being different, even in a seemingly small way.
  5. Friends. The universal struggle: a friend who’s too gabby, too quiet, too nerdy, too…whatever. When a friend embarrasses your protagonist, conflict ensues. Conflict=story=good.** 2606160921_e1e298611d_z
  6. Weaknesses. Why is it that humans think we’re the only ones with weaknesses? Weaknesses hidden keep us isolated—and often misinterpreted. Think of the misunderstandings that can result when a child refuses sleepover invitations because he’s embarrassed about his medication regimen; or when a teen refuses to eat lunch with her classmates because she’s embarrassed about her weight.
  7. Strengths. I guess it’s that conformity thing again: a lot of teens (and pre-teens and even adults) are embarrassed to reveal that they’re great at math, writing, music. Sometimes it’s because they think their talent isn’t cool. Sometimes it’s because they just don’t want to stand out. Your character’s strength can be both a gift and a burden.
  8. Background/knowledge (or lack thereof). You probably know the embarrassment of using the wrong fork at a fancy dinner—but this sort of embarrassment comes into play whenever a character enters a new situation. Does your character face an unfamiliar culture? Unfamiliar social class? Unfamiliar sport? Think of Stephen King’s Carrie blotting her lipstick with a tampon: that one character trait sticks with me 20+ years after I read the book because it made me sympathize with her and pity her even as it made me shudder.
  9. An “out-of-character” character trait. For your tough girl, this might be a soft side. For your straight-A cheerleader, a hidden flaw. Break stereotypes by giving your character unexpected dimensions.
  10. Fears. People don’t like to admit they’re afraid—especially if they’re afraid of something they don’t think they should fear. For whatever weird social reason, it’s perfectly acceptable for a female to fear a cute, harmless mouse…but not, say, learning to drive a car. Go figure.***

Have a fantabulous day of love—and may you find many ways to embarrass all the characters you write!
:-) Cheryl
*Photos courtesy of *limaoscarjuliet, **theogo, and ***Dano on Flickr Commons.