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  • Rachel Paige

Elephants of Revision

I don't know about you, but I get distracted when I write. I'll be sailing along and making excellent progress when suddenly, I need to name a character. Or a dog. Or a street. Or I need to know what kind of car a character drives. Or what books are in a sixth grade English class' curriculum. Or which states have blue moon ice cream.


So I leave my document and do a "quick search" for the answer. Next thing I know it's been an hour and I'm looking at dog videos, rediscovering books I read as a kid, or looking for an ice cream place that's still open at 2 in the morning.


Clearly, none of those things are helping me.


I saw a tip online (during one of these "quick searches") that suggested putting the word "elephant" in your story each time you need information like this. A name is not vital to the plot. The car or book probably isn't either. They're details. They may be important details, but the story can continue if you put "elephant" in it's place.


I don't use elephant, because it seems weird to me. What if I write a book about elephants someday? Then I'd need a new word. Instead, I put SOMETHING in all caps so I can use the find feature on Word to replace it later (you can set it to match caps in the advanced options).


It speeds up my process, because instead of getting distracted or spending an absurd amount of time looking for a book for my 12-year-old to be reading for homework, I can say "We finished the first two chapters of SOMETHING" and come back to it later.


This practice takes some getting used to, because most writers like to know the answer. They like to feel like the story is "right" before they continue. They like to fix things before they move on.


Here's the truth: the story probably still isn't "right". That detail you're searching so hard to find might not make the final cut. That scene might be tossed. That line might be. You might change it again later.


You're not helping your story. You're doing what writers do best: finding a reason not to write.


Don't kill your creativity and progress by looking up baby names for an hour. Don't waste your time deciding the perfect car for your character when the scene they're driving it in isn't done.


This works with more than just details. Sometimes I can't think of a line of dialogue, but I know the general point of it and I know the next line. I'll put "SOMETHING about finding his watch" or whatever that situation needs and move on to the next line. I don't need to know her exact words. I need to know the information her words gave so I can write the other character's response, which I do have words for.


This also works with entire scenes. Again, if I know the takeaways of a scene, but not the play-by-play, and I know what comes after, I'll skip it. I'll put "SOMETHING here with Juliet and Olivia talking and..." whatever else is vital to that scene.


This isn't easy to do at first. It's hard to leave holes in your writing. But holes are okay in early drafts. You can fix them later. What you can't fix is a scene that doesn't exist, so you need to keep writing. If a name doesn't come to you, move on. A detail, line, or scene not working? Replace it with an elephant and come back to it later.


Use whatever word you want. I like "something" but maybe you'd prefer "elephant." Or "tangerine" or "avalanche."


I don't care what word you use, but pick one and use it. You'll thank yourself later.


Do you often waste time doing "quick searches"? Do you use a trick like this? Should you?