Writing Tip: When You Get Stuck, Use ALL CAPS and Move On

I'm currently working on my seventh novel, and one of the most valuable lessons I've learned about the writing process is when to hit pause on a particular scene/sentence/description and move on. If you're a perfectionist or Type-A personality, that can be hard to do, but it's extremely important. Trust me!

 

I use all caps to keep me focused on progressing the story

When I was writing my first novel, if I wasn't sure where to take the story next, I would spend countless hours tweaking, editing, refining, and tinkering the words I already had written. Where did that get me? Nowhere! The problem with spending too much time on a particular area of the book is that you aren't moving the story forward, and if you don't move the story forward, you will never finish the book. I'm convinced this is why it takes some people 10 years to complete the first draft of a novel. They work so hard making every sentence perfect that it takes forever to get to the finish line.

 

A good trick I've learned is to use the ALL CAPS function. My current manuscript is filled with notes in ALL CAPS such as:

 

  • WRITE SOMETHING FUNNY HERE
  • FLESH OUT THE DESCRIPTION OF THIS RESTAURANT
  • ADD IN SOMETHING HERE ABOUT WHY THEY GOT DIVORCED
  • FIX THIS- SOUNDS WEIRD
  • MAKE THIS DESCRIPTION BETTER
  • DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?

 

It would be easy to spend days, if not weeks working on the above issues, but at the end of the day, they are details that aren't critical to the story. If I want to finish the novel, my focus has to be on progressing the story.

 

Once you finish the first draft, then it's time to go back and fix all the problem areas you've put in ALL CAPS along the way. That's where the fun begins, because you know you're in the home stretch!

 

-Maria

Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of the romantic comedies Perfect on Paper, It's a Waverly Life, Honey on Your Mind, Chocolate for Two, and Cassidy Lane. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at www.mariamurnane.com.

 

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2014 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Comment by Karen Szklany Gault on August 8, 2014 at 11:17am

Thanks so much for the tip, Maria. I'll give it a try!

Comment by Kathryn Meyer Griffith on July 30, 2014 at 11:17am

Thanks Zetta...because I did use it in "one" place in my newest novel Dinosaur Lake II: Dinosaurs Arising when an old man is attacked by a winged dinosaur and he yells something out. Nice to know other people are aware of it.

Though, as Maria, I have used CAPS (in bright red) to note a place in my manuscripts where I want to come back and revisit something or add something. I also used 8888888's in places where I've left off editing and want to remember where I did for when I come back to the manuscript. Over 42 years of writing I've acquired quite a few weird tricks like these as I imagine most writers do. Good post Maria.

Comment by Zetta Brown on July 29, 2014 at 5:13pm

@Kathryn - We have a series of vampire hunter books (The Sid Tillsley Chronicles) set in England and there are times when someone is shouting in all caps for comedic effect, because just like in email, the author is trying to denote very, very strong emphasis. I should also mention that this is a series heavy on humor and all caps is used sparingly. Like anything else, it can be done to death and make the text look sloppy and unprofessional. I've seen it occasionally in other books. Purists may cringe, but if done carefully, it works well.

Comment by Kathryn Meyer Griffith on July 29, 2014 at 1:32pm

Good idea. I also (after writing 42 years and publishing 20 books) learned something new. I was reading an adventure/thriller novel and in a truly scary/exciting place the writer had one of his characters scream something in all caps. Something like (when a monster spider was attacking him): "Not as if I was going to get away. IT WAS GOING TO EAT ME! " It actually worked. I started laughing. Has anyone ever seen anything in a finished book all in caps for the effect only? Is it acceptable? Just curious.

Comment by Patricia Robertson on July 29, 2014 at 1:05pm

I like the idea of all caps so you can easily find your edit notes and move on. 

Comment by Zetta Brown on July 29, 2014 at 12:37pm

This is the trick I used to help me get through NaNoWriMo last year. Before that, I was like you and would constantly re-edit what I'd written before. Why? Because it's something that a lot of creative writing books suggest you do as a "warm up" to get into the day's writing or to help you get over a writer's block.

But you're right. It doesn't really lead you anywhere, and in my opinion, if you keep mulling over the previous writing, you may prevent yourself in allowing things to develop on their own because you have to make things "fit" with what you've already written.

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