Sometimes I have a hard time starting a scene. I write the opening sentence once, twice. Delete those. Start over. Struggle to find the right words. Come to realize that I cannot structure a decent sentence. Wait, hands poised on keys. Wait. Wait.
Many writers recommend freewriting. For me, one of the best ways to get unblocked is to use a technique called Writing Down the Page from The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris.
Basically, you focus on action and imagery, keeping sentences or phrases short, line after line. The result looks like a page or more of free verse. The authors claim that writing this way, fast and without regard for punctuation or exposition, frees your inner critic.
This really works for me. I focus on the action of the scene, and as I do so, I end up surprising myself with imagery and ideas.
Here’s an example:
[Note: Izzy and Mom are driving through Delhi in a taxi. A beggar startled Izzy.]
Izzy turns her face and hides in the duffle bag
She feels Mom’s hand rubbing her back
The car accelerates
A few more minutes, the driver says
Mom: Good. Thanks. We don’t have much time.
Her voice sounds thick.
Izzy keeps her eyes shut
Likes the darkness
Smells the faint plastic smell of the fabric
I had forgotten about the duffle bag, but it’s a perfect place for Izzy to hide. What’s more, that notion that she “likes the darkness” feels like something that could take on more meaning.
Now, I can write.