Placeholders, & Why They May Be Good For Your Draft

Sometimes when you’re writing, you know how the events of the story are playing out, but the prose just isn’t coming to you. What do you do?

Some people would tell you to brute-force the scene. In my experience, that doesn’t usually work. While I’m of the mind that even the ugliest prose is easier to edit than a blank page, forcing yourself to write something you’re not ready to write can burn you out, and there are times you genuinely need a little more time to mull over a scene before you know where to go with it.

But you still need to get words down on the page, right?

There’s actually one very healthy drafting behavior that a lot of new writers overlook or dismiss; you write what you can, and drop in a placeholder to temporarily substitute for what you can’t.

There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Placeholders can be elaborate, or they can be quick inserts that you can drop in and jump back to later. When I draft and when I read other’s drafts, I tend to encounter three different types of placeholders;

  • Simple placeholders. Example: I use “()” in place of phrases or words I don’t remember. Whatever placeholder you use should be unique and easily searched, so that you can weed them out using “Find and Replace” in the editing process.
  • Problem-solving placeholders. Example: I know that Eustace needs to solve a riddle to advance the plot, but I don’t know know how he goes about solving the riddle yet. I leave a note to myself as “(Eustace solves the riddle)” so I can move forward with the rest of the scene.
  • Plain-language placeholders. Example: I want a romantic scene to take place, but I can’t seem to muster the loving language for it today. So instead of a passionate description, I write a plain-language version of what I want to take place, and make a note to to fancier it up later.

Placeholders can be helpful for writers like me, who write their stories entirely out of order, but I’ve heard that they can be especially helpful for writers who prefer to work through their stories in a linear fashion. Why? Because it gives them permission to move forward with the plot when they might otherwise be stumped on a scene for weeks.

Writing does not have to be good the instant it leaves your pen. Give yourself room to work out the fine details of your projects, and you’ll enjoy writing that much more.

A writer who enjoys writing is a writer who writes often.

And that’s it for placeholders for today! If you find this helpful, then you can support me as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi or getting hyped for Shadow Herald‘s release in May. Thank you, and have a lovely day.

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