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.

15 Comments on “Writing Tips from Doctor McCoy

    • Care to share those with the others? Would save all interested, such as myself, a whole lot of time.
      Greetings from abroad

  1. This is terrific. It’s the repetition of “I’m a writer . . . ” that makes it easily among the best advice I’ve ever heard. I’ve also found that reluctance to proceed comes from not understanding — or not knowing — what I mean to do next. Good to know I’m not alone.

    • Now I know I’m not alone on that one. Are there any other telltale signs you use to alert yourself to a problem?

    • Those poor red shirts get a bad rap. You were fairly safe in a red shirt so long as you were from engineering. It was the security force that had it so bad.

      • If you notice, most of the hard work was in engineering. Everyone else seemed to have a computer that they fed directions to.

        • That’s a good point. The engineers always seemed to be busy doing things. Not just Scotty, but the occasional underlings you saw behind him. And it seemed clear that there was some skill involved even for Transporter Chief Kyle.

  2. Dr. McCoy was my favorite Star Trek original series character. I always saw him as the *heart* of the series and perhaps that’s why this advice resonates for me. Perhaps my creative juices stop when the *heart* of what I want to say isn’t there. I remember the scene from “Dead Poets Society” where Robin Williams has his students stand on his desk to see things in a different way. I see it as *what if the opposite is true?” A fantasy that hopefully will shift my creativity into high gear again. Better quit writing to you and review those projects I set aside!
    Thank you so much….
    Barbara Barrett

    • I still think Kirk is my favorite, but Kirk wouldn’t have been even half as cool without input from Spock and McCoy, and the assistance of all those talented subordinates like Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and even Checkov, I suppose.

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  4. Pingback: Self-Sabotage is Easier than Writing | Howard Andrew Jones Howard Andrew Jones

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