Roll that rock

Daily goals (word count or time spend writing) are a good way to motivate yourself and get into the habit of writing. What they don’t do, though, is modulate tension.

I recently started writing a story with no daily goals (or even an outline) and I discovered that without a reason to push myself continue writing, I would start a scene and just sort of…stop after a while. The scene petered out and I’d go do something else. I couldn’t figure out what would happen next. It was like mini-writer’s block.

Which isn’t a bad thing. I operated under the assumption that I didn’t know what would happen next in the story because of some mistake I had made earlier on. So I read right around where my previous scene had petered out, and each time, I found a poor decision. A decision that made the scene less interesting. The mysterious man in the crowd looks at the main character, then vanishes. What if he didn’t vanish? What if he attacked? Well then the main character would have to defend himself. With that change made, suddenly I knew how the rest of the scene would go. I wrote until I petered out again. And so on.

Every scene has tension. The tension rises until something goes BOOM, then the dust settles and you have to start building tension anew. Writing in that tension is like lifting a rock to the top of a hill. It takes work, but once the rock is there, it rolls down easily. Then you have to lift the rock again.

It’s a sisyphean task. But like…in a good way?

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