For years, my dog has pulled at the leash and for years I’ve been trying to make him stop, employing all sorts of tools and techniques. One of the many that failed was the ‘just turn and walk in the other direction’ tip. The dog’s logic appeared to be: I was pulling in that direction, I can just as easily pull in this direction too, you silly human.
Bear with me, this does have to do with writing.
Then I saw the technique demonstrated properly on BBC’s Dog Borstal, one of the rash of dog behavioural shows. It’s not just turn and walk in the other direction. The key point is to have an extra loop of the leash in one hand (your left, if the dog is on your left). As you turn, release the loop: the dog, momentarily freed, plunges forward in the original direction, is dragged around by its own momentum rather than by you forcibly pulling it into place, and is now a good way behind you as you march off in the new direction.
This works. This works on a stubborn dog with the world’s worst leash habits. It earns you some odd looks if you can’t find a quiet place to practise it, but it works.
Used incorrectly, the tip failed. Used properly and consistently, the tip worked with immediate results.
Those of you who follow the Sunday ‘How I did’ posts know that recently I tried to apply the ‘just keep writing, no editing’ rule and it failed – because I used it incorrectly. I took ‘just keep going’ as a signal to skimp on scenes, skip hard bits and in general rush the whole writing process. What it really means is, OK you’ve used ‘jaundiced’ twice in the same paragraph, but you can fix it on the edit, so just keep going.
Used incorrectly, the tip failed. Used correctly, it’s got me through some tough sessions.
Over the next few weeks, the Thursday ‘tips and techniques’ post will focus on some of the most common ‘rules’ of writing and how they can actually interfere with your writing if they’re misapplied, taken too literally, or viewed as unbreakable.