The Cliffhanger Moment

hanging off a cliffThe hardest thing for me as a writer is starting. Not just that moment at the very beginning of a story or novel where I’m staring at an absolutely blank page but also simply sitting down to write for the first time in a day. Maybe I’m alone here but after I’ve spent 8 hours at work, come home and helped the kids with homework, and finally have that time to write, I’m worn out. The energy is gone, sapped out by everything else I had to think about that day.

How do I get over this problem? The answer is simple: cliffhangers.

I don’t mean this literally–at least not all of the time. When I sat down to think about what motivated me as a writer and how I could keep that energy flowing, it turned into thinking about what hooks me as a reader. At the time, I was on a reread of Game of Thrones and realized that Martin is very, very good at the cliffhanger. While he juggles many points of view, he manages to end each chapter on a dramatic moment. It’s one of the reasons that I think he’s found such success. Not all of these moments are action-packed. Some of them are just emotional revelations or an intriguing statement but all of them are focused on leaving you with a question. They drive you as the reader to want to get to that next moment.

It struck me as I realized this that there was no reason I couldn’t do that as a writer. Not for my audience but for myself.

This is how I do it. I sit down and I write until I find that cliffhanger moment. It might be in the middle of a scene, it might be at the end of a chapter. But when I hit it, I force myself to stop. I stop, put away the laptop (or put down the pen), and walk away from the manuscript, telling myself “you get to go back to that tomorrow.”

What that moment is, varies. Sometimes, it’s a pulse-pounding action scene. Sometimes, it’s just a conversation or dialogue I know will be fun to write. But either way, I know that it’s something I’m going to be really excited about. I’m going to have it in the back of my head the next day. I’m going to write it mentally in spare moments and when I sit down and finally have a chance to type, instead of being exhausted, I’m going to be excited because I’ve been anticipating–rather than dreading–this time all day.

Does it work all the time? No. Is it frustrating? Oh, yes, especially if I can’t actually get to write that day and I have to hold on to the thoughts. Sometimes, I end up scribbling bits out on post-its because I just can’t wait.

But it works for me a lot of the time and perhaps it’ll work for you too. Try it and see.