Not Your Nano Day 2 – Square Brackets of Absolution


The Spawn were talking in the car the other day about writing and how hard it is, especially the beginning. As Younger Spawn says, “When you have to start you can’t think of anything, but by the end, you’ve run out of space for all your ideas.” She was talking about writing prompts for school, but I think it holds for most writing.

For me, part of it is about Fear of Suck. How can I begin something if I know it’s going to suck? What’s the point? Who am I kidding? I should give up and get a real job….and so on.

So, I have come up with a plan to get me started until the ideas start rolling, and means I don’t have to feel bad about The Suck. I call it the Square Brackets of Absolution. (SBA). They’re basically a safe space to suck and write crap until I feel confident in my writing. All I have to do is when confronted with a Blank Page of Doom, I open up a square bracket, and begin typing kak.

Like so: [I have no idea what I’m doing with this scene … It was a dark and stormy night when Jane was woken by the sound of breaking glass. Her heart was going like a thing that goes really fast and all she could see in the dark was the dim tracery of shadowed furniture. Something was out of place – a cupboard door left open,with a coat thrown over it. The coat moved….

At some point the suck is going to give way to some decent writing as your creative brain crawls out of its cave and blinks blearily into the dawn of Cool Ideas. When you’re done writing you can go back and find the spot where things change, and put in your closing square bracket. You don’t have to delete the suck, you can let it stay – you never know what ideas might be hiding in the suck that you’ll only spot come revision time. The square brackets make it easy to find these passages with a search, which will make deleting them easier later.

So if you’re ready to start writing your 100 words, open up that SBA and let the ideas roll.

Tomorrow I’m going to talk a little about outlining and mapping, and give a list of some resources that have been helpful to me and other writers with different approaches to planning.

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4 Replies to “Not Your Nano Day 2 – Square Brackets of Absolution”

  1. Me again. 🙂

    Got 450 words down. Rough and ugly, but down.

    It’s funny, but the SBA is quite powerful and I actually have used it for years. For example, in my academic writing (I’m working on my PhD) I am TERRIBLE at writing introductions that aren’t stilted and forced. So every single academic paper I write starts with “[intro]” and then I get to writing what I actually know what to write about. Then at the end, I can just throw a few sentences together as the introduction and be done. In a way, sometimes it’s easier to start on page 2 than it is on page 1.

    Also I use them a lot in my endless notes and planning. Really great for character names. So if someone is, say, a telepath in the story but I have no idea what their name is or even anything else about them, they just are “[telepath]” wherever I need a name. Once I decide on one, search and replace does it’s magic.

    Funny that square brackets have that sort of power. With the prose today, I always knew I had to write garbage before it could be revised into something better, but it still felt too wrong and flawed. The power of SBA really helped make that final jump to the mindset of “these words will never appear in the final draft, so don’t worry about making them good, just make them exist.”

    So thanks again! And see you tomorrow!

    1. Yes, they’re definitely great as placeholders for names of characters/settings that you can look up later – thanks for that. 🙂

      And yay words! 450 is excellent. I think I got around 250 but I’m currently going through an old start of a manuscript and finding my way before I make new words, so it’s hard to tell.

      As for rough and ugly, I once read the words “Everything can be fixed in revisions” and I make that my mantra. …oooh you’ve just given me a blog post idea. 😀

  2. omg the sba is so perfect for me! (Look at all those initials…oh my.) I use square brackets as place holders — I use them A LOT, lol. (More initials! Ack! What kind of a writer am I?!) And I free-write my way into the day’s words when I’m stuck (often), but I am going to make way better use of the SBA from now on. How very freeing. Thanks for this!

    1. Yay! I am so glad when i can post something that helps. I love how such a little thing can be so powerful.

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