Writing Tips from Doctor McCoy

At Black Gate Monday I’m going  live with a long post about how writers sabotage themselves, and I thought of a corollary that I’ve been thinking of as the McCoy test. On those days when I find myself hesitating, or wasting time notwriting during my writing time I try to think a little like Dr. McCoy. If you’re not a fan of the original Star Trek you might still have heard an occasional reference to some of McCoy’s catchphrases. No, not “he’s dead, Jim,” but “I’m a doctor, not a moon shuttle conductor” or I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer,” or “I’m a doctor, not an escalator” and a few others.

I’m training myself to ask if I’m a writer, or a reader of news articles, or if I’m a writer, or a Facebook visitor, etcetera. It seems to help me remember to stay on task. In my case, I have to have reference books on hand to keep historical tidbits accurate, but they can be so interesting (and notwriting is infinitely easier than writing) that I sometimes lose track. Hence the McCoy test. Am I a writer, or a historical text reader?

All this leads to another point, and that’s to learn how to trust my instincts. I think every writer has their own combinations of strengths and weaknesses. Used to I’d put off writing time with lame excuses. These days whenever I’m experiencing a little starting reluctance I’ve finally figured out that means that there’s something wrong with the scene I’m getting ready to write.

Unfortunately my instincts aren’t honed enough to guess from there whether or not I have a pacing problem or a character motivation problem, but now at least I’ve learned that I sometimes need to back off rather than plunging blindly onward and wasting lots of time on a scene or chapter that’s going to end up on the scrapheap . I’m realizing that a lot of succeeding at writing is learning to recognize your own habits and then either overcoming them or channeling them to your advantage.