Making time to write: the magic of ugly placeholder sentences

The fresh beginning of a brand new year; a meaningful birthday; a relaxing vacation on a tropical beach: every so often, us writer folk are struck by a bolt of lightning that makes us renew our commitment to finally writing that novel. We’re all fired up and ready to go; to wake up early and stay up late; to keep notebooks and deadlines and dedicated hours of glorious writing frenzies.

Sike, says life, before bombarding us with overdue bills and forgotten commitments and grumpy pet turtles with inner-shell rashes. One resolution falls through, and then another, and before we know it, we’re back to our old, unproductive routine. Worry not, that’s perfectly okay: in this series, we’ll discuss different ways that you can find time to write, brainstorm, or otherwise work on that novel of yours.

In this episode: the magic of ugly placeholder sentences. Here’s four ways that peppering your pages with unpolished trains-of-thought helps you make the most out of the hours you’ve got.

1) They help you empty your brain
You’ve got a creative mind, I’m sure; filled with magical worlds and compelling characters and gripping story lines that haunt you all day every day. That’s lovely, but it also comes with a downside: when you have a million ideas bouncing through your head, there’s always a constant sense of anxiety. After all, what will the world come to if you forget that one genius idea?

Enter the miracle cure: ugly placeholder sentences. Putting your ideas to paper, however unpolished, lifts that heavy, heavy weight off your shoulders. It’s on the page now, safe and sound, and you can continue writing fresh and re-invigorated. Future you can take care of getting the phrasing right — but for now, it won’t be gnawing in the back of your head. 

2) They absorb future inspiration
And I know: it’s not easy. By definition, a placeholder text is incomplete. It’s a hole without a puzzle piece, just waiting for things to fall into place. That may sound frustrating, but it’s actually extremely useful and liberating. Because the thing is, stories tend to snowball. As we delve deeper and deeper into our story worlds, countless new ideas sprout from our endlessly creative minds. 

Under normal circumstances, they’d end up on that ever-growing, rarely-used ‘potential ideas for later’-pile — but with your placeholder sentences in place, you’ll notice just how many of your spitballs turn out to be the exact puzzle piece you were looking for. A side character that makes a scene work; a brilliant new plot twist; a captivating piece of world building that makes your world pop: you’ll never miss out on your own brilliant ideas again.

3) They’re easy to do when tired
You’re a human person, and human persons have a finite supply of energy and mental health. When you’ve spent your day dealing with work, studies or grumpy pet turtles, sometimes you just don’t have the energy to craft beautifully poetic sentences. And that’s perfectly fine, we’ve all been there — but it doesn’t mean you have to sit still.

Placeholder sentences are an ideal way to make the most of your fried brain. Because the bar is so low, you can just vomit words out onto the paper — worst comes to worst, you’ll just delete what you wrote. 

4) They help you fight perfectionism
You’ve heard it all before. Perfectionism is your mortal enemy. The worst thing you write is far better than the best thing you didn’t. I could repeat the same thing until we’re blue in the face, but it’s not until your take active steps to overcome your perfectionism that you’ll truly know just how much you’ve been held back. 

And as it happens, placeholder sentences are an excellent way to do just that. Writing ugly, malformed sentences, regularly, will instinctively teach you that you can always improve on bad writing, but you can’t edit an empty page. It helps you get over your pride, in other words, to a magical land where there’s inspiration and productivity aplenty.

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  • About the author

    Creator of Nearly Complete and author of Dav Iven. Semicolon enthusiast.

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    Creator of Nearly Complete and author of Dav Iven. Semicolon enthusiast.

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