Before I get to December’s Writing Tips post about letting your manuscript breathe or “cool down” after you’ve completed the first draft, I wanted to take a moment to talk about placeholder words and phrases in your first draft. Maybe placeholder words isn’t the correct terminology, but that’s what I call them.

Let’s say you’re writing your first draft and the story is flowing nicely. Your fingers are flying across the keyboard, music is playing in the background (or not), and the story is alive in your mind. Then it all comes to a screeching halt because you can’t think of the exact word or phrase you want to use in that moment. It’s on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t summon it. So you put a placeholder word or phrase in that spot and move on so you don’t lose the momentum that you’ve already built up in your first draft.

For instance, you want to use the word fortuitous, but you can’t think of that word at the moment , so you write in the word lucky. Just write down a placeholder word and move on. Or you want to use a certain model of car or type of pistol, but you don’t know exactly what you want to use or you may need to do some research later, so you can just use a placeholder word or phrase here. You can either insert the placeholder right into the story or use parentheses and leave a note to yourself. I might write something in parentheses like this in a first draft: John escaped out the back door and got away (go into more detail here). Or I might write something like: Carla loved her job (explain how she got this job). I don’t do this a lot because if there are too many placeholders then it’s not really a first draft but a very detailed outline, but if I’m really stuck somewhere on a certain detail, and if it’s a minor enough detail, I don’t want it to slow my first draft down so I’ll go back and add that in during the next draft.

The most important thing about placeholder words or phrases is that they can allow you to power through that first draft. You can always go back and change the placeholder words and phrases when you complete your next draft or edits.

Hope this helps someone out there. I would love to hear any comments you have.

Until next time . . .


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