Issue 51 Contributor Kerry Paul May blogs about how he avoids writer’s block.

I am not the sum of what I have personally witnessed or experienced. I am the sum of the experiences of all those around me as well. What I know is never just what I know.

I choose silence and solitude to write in. It’s unfair to subject my characters to distraction from outside stimuli. I’ve never written a character I didn’t totally love—even those I wrote to be totally hated.

I write first drafts and final drafts with pencil and notebooks. The physical act of writing brings me closer to my characters. My pencil and notebooks never crash, never need to be rebooted nor are they subject to power outages.

I’m constantly taking notes for what I’m currently composing and for what I’ll compose in the future. I have sticky notes or notepads and pens everywhere in my house, in my car, in my jacket pockets. “Triggering moments” of “There’s something you don’t see every day” never escape me—always documented. I use the notebook margins for notes. My first draft notebooks are always a mess with many of the pages covered with sticky notes (greatest invention ever) and the margins filled in.

I do two things (after extensive note taking) before I sit to write my first draft. On a 3 X 5 index card, I write the conclusion. Usually, it’s just a generalization. For my story, “The Situation In Central America,” I wrote, “Henry’s gonna be okay.” On a second index card, I write the first sentence of my story, novel chapter, poem, screenplay—the actual first sentence. That’s my “starting gun.” With my pile of notes, I begin to fill the gap between my two index cards.

My first draft of anything is written very fast. If I get bogged down by tiny details about a particular section, I’ll write “enhance,” “elaborate” or “expand” in the margin and move on. My job is to get to the rewrite/final draft stage where things slow down considerably. (What’s the hurry?—I’m still taking notes for what I’m going to do after this.) My personal mantra for the final draft is, “Whatever’s good, make it better. Whatever’s bad, make it worse.” Final drafts are to be savored.

I let the story take me wherever it wants to go. If a tangent crops up, I embrace it. “Writing off the subject” can be as important as “staying on cue.” If the tangent doesn’t work here, it’ll work elsewhere. I never throw anything away.

I keep handy the people who inspired me to become a writer. These are my roots. I nourish my roots by reading. Note-taking is a good diversion. So is yard work, five cats, two dogs and exercising. I write poetry. (Every fiction writer should write haiku. Seriously.) A good trick I use while I’m writing a draft is to leave my coffee cup across the room, giving me a reason to get up and move around from time to time.

The number one reason why I never get writer’s block: I always stop writing before I’m ready to stop. I use my notes and the last sentence I wrote as my “jumping off point” for the next time I sit down to write. Even if I’ve completed the final draft of something, I will refer to my two original index cards (conclusion and first sentence) and write down the first sentence on a fresh notebook page. I never judge my day by what I’ve accomplished. I judge my day by how well I set myself up for the next time.

Kerry Paul May’s story “The Situation in Central America” appeared in Potomac Review Issue 51.Born and raised in eastern Oregon, May received a BA and an MFA from the University of Oregon. His poetry has been widely published. West End Press published Test Flights, his first volume of poems, in 1995. He’s working on a second volume of poems and another of short stories. He’s completed six screenplays and part one of a novel, The World, about his experiences during five years of living in Spain. Part 2 of The World is in the works. He currently lives in Eugene, Oregon, with his awesome wife.