These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, Pixar's story artist. Number nine on the list—when you're stuck, make a list of what wouldn't happen next—is a great one and can apply to writers in all genres.
1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
2. Keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
3. Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about until you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
6 . What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
7 . Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
8. Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
9 . When you're stuck, make a list of what wouldn't happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
12. Discount the first thing that comes to mind—and the second, third, fourth and fifth. Get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
14. Why must you tell this story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
17. No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on. It'll come back around to be useful later.
18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
20. Exercise: Take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How do you rearrange them into what you do like?
21. You must identify with your situation and/or characters; you can't just write "cool." What would make you act that way?
22. What's the essence of your story? The most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Here are five tips for scaling the editing wall:1. Do not read too many editing books while you are editing.
A book I would recommend for editing your own drafts is Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. It's a fantastic book and should help in many ways. The other book I would recommend is Donald Mass’s Writing the Breakout Novel. This is like a Bible for authors. Especially first-time authors who want to knock their first book out of the park. Donald Mass is brilliant and his book is excellent, but reading it while you are editing will put the pressure on. It makes you really want to do the writing equivalent of hitting that home run in the bottom of the 9th–in the World Series.
Imagine learning baseball and expecting that kind of performance. But really, wouldn’t you have to learn to play baseball first? That might mean hitting a lot of flyballs.
Truth is, there are tons of great books on editing, tons of websites giving advice. If you want to read them, do, but take it in small doses. Read one chapter or maybe two, and do a round of edits. Then rest and read some more.
2. Give your manuscript time to breathe.
One of the first pieces of advice I got was to wait at least a week before reading the manuscript. I waited a day. As a result, I had no objectivity and overwhelm came in pretty quick. You have to give your manuscript time, which means slowing down.
3. Switch to a different tactile sensation.
Lots of us spend time in front of our computers. Too much time. Take time away. Print your MS on paper and read it. Make notes in the margins. Use colored pens. Then read it again. This time, make chapter scene notes on index cards (it keeps you brief). Write it on colored paper, with colored pens. Then you can arrange things and see if the order needs changing. I don’t have the science behind it, but it seems to bring about a kinesthetic approach, which is good for adult learning, and opens up new ways of thinking.
4. Take time off and be physical.
Go for a walk. Go do some yoga. Go for a run or to the gym, or even get a pedicure or massage. Letting off some steam not only helps you deal with stress, but it will pull you into a different state of mind, one that will process your story differently and give you more perspective. I also find that doing something physical reminds me of the world around me, which we forget when we’re in the minds of our characters. But if we don’t experience the world, we can’t experience it for them.
Seriously, live a little. It’s good for you.
5. Put your unconscious mind to work.
You know the old expression, “sleep on it”? Apparently, it really works. I read somewhere once about a study showing that people make better decisions if they meditate or sleep on something. Take a nap, a hot bath, or meditate. There’s a great article on how meditation increases creativity here.
Above all, the best way to avoid overwhelm is to trust yourself and your process. if you are creating or doing things that are new to you, it will be uncomfortable at first, but that’s all part of learning how you work. You are the best at figuring out what works for you. It’s an ongoing thing.
Thanks for visiting today! If you have have tried any of these tips and they’ve worked for you, please share in the comments below. Or, if you have worked through editing overwhelm in a different way, please let me know. I’m always looking for new ways to improve my own process.