Safety Copies: The Writer’s Best Friend

Writer’s block is about stasis. The blocked writer cannot or will not go forward. It’s about fear: of success, of failure, of screwing up what you think is perfect so far. (It’s amazing how often I’ve tossed or reworked material I thought was perfect.)

If you are frozen, making a safety copy of your work and putting it aside is the simplest and often most effective way to break through. Once you’ve copied your work and put it in your Safety folder, you are free to play with what you have written. Make a list of 25 things you can do with it, the loonier the better. If you are writing a romance, have your hero turn out to be an alien, or your heroine gets elected to congress. The point is not to come up with a solution, but to break the frozen ice that keeps you from fishing in the rushing stream of creativity. You probably won’t make your hero into a robot, but writing that down may make you see he’s cut off from his feelings, or something else.

The point is you are stuck, and you are afraid to proceed. Copying your work and putting it aside removes one source of fear. That alone is progress. You are then free to mess up, destroy, and wreck the thing that’s got you so scared, and guess what? Just because you wrecked it, the world hasn’t ended. Your story is still where it was when the fear began, pristine and untouched.

I suspect that copy will stay where it is while you continue on with the new ideas you get from trashing the perfect thing you made.

I spent weeks wrestling with a story that began with the hero going on vacation. It started as a wistful portrait of the end of a relationship. Many struggles later I admitted that there were elements of something else, something darker in it.

I copied several chapters and moved them to another folder and gave it a title. Now I had two copies of the same material. One became the original story about a man on a vacation. The second became a horror story without any vacation involved. Both began from the same 5k words (which will be modified to fit what follows, but not until I finish both stories).

Look at this corrected galley proof of Balzac’s:


You have a gift writers of previous eras might have killed for, the ability to preserve your original work so you can have unlimited copies with which to play.

So do it. Play.