Writing Tips: The No-Pause Placeholder

Getting in the writing flow is like the Holy Grail for writers. When you’re in that flow, words and ideas are just coming easily, and you don’t want to stop for anything or anyone.

You’ve probably been there. You’re writing, everything’s clicking, it’s amazing, and then … bam! You’re dumped out of the flow as you realize you don’t have a name for your main character’s elderly aunt or magical doohickey. Or maybe you can’t remember (or never knew) what ranks above a captain in the Army. Whatever it is, stopping to name it or research it interrupts your flow. You know that if you get it back at all during that writing session, it will take a while.

To keep this from happening to you, I’m going to introduce you to one of my favorite writing tips:The no-pause placeholder. It goes like this:

Billy raced into the kitchen, clutching the [magical doohickey] to his chest. 

“Mom!” he yelled. “Mom! Look what I found!”

Instead of his mom, [Aunt somebody] stood at the stove, stirring something that smelled oddly earthy.

“That’s nice, dear,” she said. “Why don’t you just give that to me and go get washed up?”

Whenever you run into something you don’t know, put it in brackets and keep writing. You can do it for longer scenes, too.

Andrea stepped into the sanctuary. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the priest standing at the front [performing some long ceremony with incense and magic – maybe a sacrifice. Definitely makes Andrea uneasy.] 


She jumped. She’d been so riveted by the ceremony that she hadn’t heard Frederick come in behind her.

The no-pause placeholders serve two purposes. First, as the name suggests, they keep you from pausing. You just put in the information you know at the moment and keep the story going.

Second, they give you an easy way to find them later. When you’re ready to fill in details, or if you just want to make a list of the details you need to fill in so you can think them through or research them, simply do a Find (or Search) command and look for brackets.  If you don’t like brackets, use a different symbol that you’re unlikely to use anywhere else in the story to make finding it easy.

If you find yourself constantly getting bogged down with details that keep you from actually writing, try the no-pause placeholder technique. You’ll be amazed at how much you can write, and at how easy it is to go back and fill in the blanks when you’re ready.

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