White Space

I read a blog last week about the differences between today’s printed books, and those of yesteryear. One of the biggest changes was that contemporary readers expect more white space, whereas our ancestors were comfortable with word atop paragraph running into page becoming chapter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe blog continued by examining the need for mental white space, making me contemplate how I cleared my mind when I’ve been writing too long. Extended periods at the keyboard tend to embed me so thoroughly and deeply in my story and characters that I lose a reader’s more distant perspective. The resulting, somewhat myopic copy becomes too dense, or assumes  readers know more than they do about what’s going on. So how do I avoid this self-defeating (and unprofessional) problem?

Take a hike. I do something physical. Walk to the top of my hill (no small feat in the Rocky Mountains). Endure 15-minute bursts on the treadmill. Anything that makes my blood pump is good for writing, and the monotonous movement of a treadmill triggers clear, crisp dialogue and plotting. If I’ve really hit a snag during winter, I’ll cross-country ski. (I’m afraid I’m that batty old woman thrusting along, muttering to herself, trying not to slide into the frozen creek…)

Read a chapter by a favorite author. Nothing reminds me more of what really good writing looks like than works by my favorite authors. I usually have a couple of their books on the end of the desk, reminding me to be my best. A chapter or two pulls my mind far from my story so I return refreshed and energized.

Brew a cup of tea (or coffee). I know this is ridiculous, but there’s something refreshing about the process. Add a cookie (do I even need a reason?), and I’ve invested ten minutes in a caffeinated change of scenery.

Know when to take a day off. I hate this solution, but sometimes I need to step away from my story. Way away from it. I work ahead, and am maniacally disciplined, so almost always have buffers in my schedule. But when I’m bogged down, or the story is murky, I force myself to completely ignore the writing files for twenty-four hours.

Send two or three chapters to a friend. I hope you have a trusted proofer—someone who knows you and your work, is widely read, and reads in your genre. He or she can be the most valuable asset during the drafting process. When you’re lost in your document, this ally might be your manuscript’s salvation. I don’t hesitate to place the call when everything else fails.

How do you create mental white space? I’d love to hear from you.

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