The best piece of writing advice I ever got came from somebody I'll never be able to thank. It was a few years ago, and I was meandering around on the NaNoWriMo forums (probably instead of actually writing my NaNo novel, let's be honest), and I stumbled across a pearl of wisdom.
Sometimes when something really resonates, you know it straight away. Other times, it takes a while to sink in. You're walking along, and you realise you're humming a song you heard on the radio that morning, and next thing you realise you love it, and you have no idea who sings it, what it's called, or what more than four of the words are. (Somebody, tell me this isn't just me!)
Anyway, that's how it went with this piece of advice. I saw it, nodded, moved on, and then some time later realised there was genius in its simplicity. Anonymous NaNo Forum Member, I'll never find you, but here I thank you for sharing this very simple gem:
You can't edit a blank page.
Seems like nothing, right? Wrong. In fact, it's the answer to pretty much every writing problem you've got.
You're drafting, and it's all horrible, and nobody will ever want to read this terrible, confusing story in which plot holes abound and characters sit around discussing random stuff forever? (Again, somebody tell me this isn't just me!)
You can't edit a blank page. You can't fix the story until you've written it. So just write, and fix it later.
You don't think the ending's working, and you're not sure what to do?
You can't edit a blank page. Just write, and then you'll have something to work with, to discuss with CPs, something to actually fix, which is ten times better than simply having nothing at all.
You realise you've fallen victim to an attack of the adverbs type situation, and you want to delete everything ever, and start again?
You can't edit a blank page. Just leave it there, keep writing, and know that fixing something that exists already is always possible.
All this advice really boils down to the same thing: if you've got something, then you've got something to fix, something your writing friends can critique, something to mull over and tweak and improve. If all you've got is a blank page, then you've got nothing to work with, and nobody can help you.
So here's my super simple advice that I guarantee is worth its weight in gold: next time you have no idea what to do, just get writing. Just write something. You're not carving it in stone, you can always fix it later, and it's always closer to a finished story than a blank page!
Amie Kaufman is the co-author of These Broken Stars, coming in 2013 from Disney-Hyperion. You can find Amie on her blog, on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere there's cake.