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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Birds & Placeholders



I put out a bird feeder in October, excited for the return of my birdie friends from last winter. Alas, the only two feathered critters who decided to grace my feeder all winter were a pair of black-capped chickadees. They're adorable, but last year I had a bird metropolis in my backyard. The neighborhood's been empty.

Until this weekend!

It snowed, which I think threw the birds off. It threw me off. A flurry of redpolls showed up, along with a guy with a super-long hooked beak (don't know his name, but he's cute!), magpies, and some little grey finches with yellow beaks. It's been a smorgasbord of birds for three days!

I'd like to take credit for the return of my feathered friends, but I had nothing to do with it. This feels like writing a lot of the time. I use "placeholders"- phrases, words, or even scenes I know aren't great, but they serve the purpose of letting me move on to write the rest of the story. Occasionally, I come up with something fabulous to replace them with. Often, it's my beta readers and critique buddies who point out the flaws and suggest something new. I just have to be patient and wait for those ideas to show up. Like my birds.

Do you use placeholders when you write? Is there something you're waiting on right now, writing or otherwise? I'm telling you, I'm antsy for the arrival of spring in these parts!

21 comments:

VR Barkowski said...

I'm devoted to placeholders. My current WIP has a historical component and there are sections where I've typed in the notes from my research - all tell. When I edit the draft, I'll turn all those passages into show. I don't want to do it while I'm getting the first draft down because I know it will lead to my internal editor taking over too soon.

I'm so glad your birds are back! They're a sure sign spring is right around the corner. :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

VR- I'm with you- I've got a lot of telling, but at least I know it's there. I've got some phrases I use over and over. "His eyes hardened" seems to be one in this draft. And there's a lot of shrugging.

J. L. Jackson said...

I am with you both! I use several placebolders I am unhappy with, but I know when I edit they will be rewritten.

Piedmont Writer said...

I use placeholders too. And like you all tell and no show. Just to get it down so I don't lose it.

Congratulations on your birds. I think last winter was a lot milder, that may be why you had birds in the winter last year. Maybe.

Jemi Fraser said...

I've used a few placeholders too. But I find I'm not good at them - the scene niggles at me until I go back and address the issue. I'm trying to get better at ignoring it and just moving on. :)

Amalia T. said...

I think That I do NOT use placeholders. If I think a scene isn't up to snuff, I delete it and start again right then. And with research? Man, I will stop mid-sentence to go look up what I need to make the sentence right so I don't have to go back to it later. (Enter 8 hours looking up dyes from the ancient world, or a full day lost to Aphrodite's hair color.)

It probably isn't the BEST way to go about it, but I guess I make up for it with the volume I put out when I'm on my A-game and don't have to look anything up, research-wise. My writing goes fast, so I don't mind stopping to look stuff up, or deleting and starting again.

B. Miller said...

I've tried to use placeholders, but I have a mental block against them. I want to skip around in my WIP and write the parts I'm excited about, but I've found I'm a very linear storyteller.

Cool post!

Stephanie Thornton said...

J.L.- I can go into a first draft now knowing it's going to be garbage. That let's me just write the story. Then I can nix those placeholders.

Piedmont Writer- You may be right about the winter. And I'm glad to hear I'm not the only placeholder-user.

Jemi- That's how I wrote Hatshepsut. It took over a year to get the first draft done. I'm not giving myself that much time on Book #2.

Amalia- I do that with research too. I want to have it right the first time so I don't think I researched something later on and leave it incorrect. That would be bad.

B. Miller- I'm a linear storyteller too. I use those scenes I want to write as motivation to get the rest done!

L. T. Host said...

I try not to use placeholders, but when I do, I usually make a note in the doc and come back to it later. Usually, much like with writer's block for me, it's a plot issue, or a research issue. Once I've solved it, I come back and put it to rights, hopefully before anyone gets their hands on it. Which is why I use the notes because otherwise I'd never remember!

Stephanie Thornton said...

L.T.- I've just started embedding notes in my WIP. Of course, I also have a spiral notebook with sticky notes falling out all over the place.

Saumya said...

Cute blog! And hurray for your birds. I think I make chapters my placeholders. It's difficult for me to go to bed if I know there's impending work on a chapter.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Saumya- That's a good motivator! I only have time to write a few pages a day so I'm constantly in the middle of a chapter.

Christine Danek said...

Thanks for the great post!

Cynthia Reese said...

Placeholders let me write my way out of writer's block. They give me permission to continue to write even when I know it's subpar. I take the O'Hara approach: Tomorrow, I'll think about it ALL tomorrow. After all, tomorrow IS another day!

Great that your feathered friends found you!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I'd be lost without placeholders. I'm such a perfectionist I would never be able to move forward - ever! Ha ha ha. :-)

Lola Sharp said...

I too am devoted to 'placeholders', which for me are drop downs, with parenthetical notes in the middle of the dropdown.
I almost always us them where research is needed to complete the scene. I generally dislike research, and HATE being sidetracked by it... I lose my writing mojo/flow if I have to stop and look something up.
Though I have cheated and pulled a drop down placeholder when I just don't know what I want to do with a particular scene.
I'm totally with Cynthia and Scarlett, I'll deal with it 'tomorrow'.
Which, might explain why I hate revisions so much. ;o)

Glad to see I'm not alone.

paulgreci said...

I don't usually use placeholders but will ocasionally mark something and come back to it, or sometimes I'll choose a name for a character knowing that I'm going to change it later.

VR Barkowski said...

I reread your post and recalled how in my first book the protagonist ran his fingers through his hair in every scene. I excised at least ten incidents.

But that's not why I'm here. I'm actually here to tell you there's a little something on my blog for you. :)

L.T. Elliot said...

I think placeholders are necessary. We have to move on and yet we know we can't--so we place hold and then the answers can come later. Thank heaven for rewrites.

Voidwalker said...

Sometimes I'll use a paraphrase, highlighted, to be a placeholder. It's mostly only in the beginning stages of a chapter to help produce a rough skeleton of a body of that chapter, then I replace those placeholders later.

Cute birds btw.

Libbie H. said...

Be aware! Unusually long and hooked beaks on birds could be caused by "long beak deformity," a noted phenomenon reaching through Alaska down to Oregon along the west coast. Nobody knows what is causing it yet, but it's under scrutiny. It's been noted in several species, mostly chickadees and other small perching birds (passerines), though it's also been seen in corvids (crows, ravens, etc.) and raptors.

If you spot a bird and it looks to have a malformed beak, please report it here: http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/landbirds/beak_deformity/index.html Hopefully biologists will be able to identify a cause soon!

That's a gorgeous redpoll picture. I love those little guys! Wish we had them down here. Our goldfinch population is huge and very active this year, though!