Posted On November 6, 2015 by Print This Post

Cracking the WIP with Donna Cummings

I have to say when I read Donna’s title for her post, I didn’t “get it”. Cracking the WIP. Awesome idea, I thought. It wasn’t until I wrote it in the title bar that I finally caught on….Cracking the WIP/Cracking the WHIP….lol….ah, some days wit fails me. Luckily Donna is sharp as a tack, and her post shows it!

Author Donna CummingsEach time I finish writing a book, I have this brief giddy moment where I think, “Finally! I have discovered the method for writing every book that comes after this one, and it is going to be so much easier from now on.”

I wish I knew where that delusion comes from. It may be the result of exhaustion and depleted brain cells and extreme overcaffeinating. It doesn’t really matter, because the delusion only lasts until I start a new WIP.

That’s when I’m reminded that WIP means “Work in Progress” even when I’m wishing it stood for “Whoa! It’s Perfect!” Some days it feels like WIP actually means “Work in Perpetuity” because no matter how many words you add, it’s impossible to find your way to The End.

There’s got to be a way to make that WIP your. . . BFF. Here are some thoughts on how to crack the WIP before it can crack you.

  1. Follow the clues

One of my current WIPs started out with this scene popping into my mind: the heroine, a Regency miss, is at a country inn, crying after she got jilted by the man with whom she was going to elope. That intrigued the heck out of me. Why was she eloping? Why was she jilted? What was she going to do next?

RG_smOne question led to another, and then another. I tried to follow the breadcrumbs my brain left for me. (Hmm. Maybe we should call them “braincrumbs”.) Anyway, here I am, merrily chasing this trail of clues, and getting excited when the hero shows up, and then other stuff happens, and then more other stuff happens. . .

The WIP is practically writing itself.

All of a sudden, I can’t figure out what the clues mean. It’s like Lassie is right there in front of me, barking urgently about Timmy falling into the well. Since I speak human, not collie, I don’t have the first idea of where the well is. For all I know, Lassie is tired of rescuing Timmy and is giving me the wrong directions to keep me from getting there in time.

Luckily, our writing brains are leaving us hints all over the place. Sometimes those braincrumbs aren’t obvious, but I suggest you go back and re-read your WIP, especially the parts you particularly enjoyed writing. It’s almost embarrassing when you see things that give insights into your characters, or their reasons for what they’re doing—and you didn’t realize any of it was there. Even a throwaway bit of dialogue can open up new territory for you to explore. The WIP is a treasure map filled with all kinds of fun secrets.

  1. Don’t despair


While it can be fun to solve the various puzzles in the WIP, sometimes it can seem like you’re walking blindfolded through an intricate maze filled with snake bombs. (I’m not sure what those are, but I needed something that sounded scary, and that sounds wicked scary to me.)


It’s okay that we don’t know what we’re doing, or what happens next. The story hasn’t been written yet. NOBODY knows what happens next.


EPL_boxset_medWe’re taking unconnected clues–brief glimpses of partial scenes, and characters who haven’t revealed much about themselves–and piecing them together until they create a Big Picture.

Maybe your guess as to what happens next is wrong. That’s okay. That’s why the delete key was invented. (Actually it’s why the “save as” function was invented. I can’t bear to delete anything, which means my hard drive is packrat nirvana.)

Just keep the faith, and keep moving forward.

  1. Get the ugly out

Sometimes you have to write the yucky stuff before the good stuff is brave enough to show up. Sit down and announce, “I’m gettin’ the ugly out. These words don’t count.” And then go to town. It takes the pressure off, so you don’t feel like you have to write solid gold words, because they’re meant to be less than pretty.

The other day I had to draft a new scene, and I was convinced it was uglier than ugly. I was expecting to hide it on my laptop where it could only be retrieved by the most skilled hacker that ever lived. The next morning I girded my loins (uh, you know, mentally) and opened up the scene, ready to slash and burn and try to salvage the three words that remained.

To my shock, and utter delight, the scene had transformed itself overnight. It wasn’t ugly. In fact, it was pretty damn cute. Maybe those ugly words got a ton of beauty sleep. Or maybe the writing fairies had visited my laptop, taking away the yucky version and leaving behind the good one.

Whatever happened, it started out as raw, unpolished, down-and-dirty, needing mom spit to get it presentable. But now it’s got potential.

  1. Enjoy the wild ride

It’s hard to imagine that all of the uncertainty and craziness a WIP brings into your life can be considered enjoyable. On those days when the WIP is cracking my skull open, I’ll do just about anything to avoid it. Like sampling a bowl filled with lukewarm Brussels sprouts, or going on a safari to capture dust elephants in the living room.

I’ve done my best to follow the clues to what seems like the most likely destination, but ended up stranded, spinning my wheels and running out of gas. I’ve even gotten to the point where I’m tempted to throw the WIP into the well and then bark at Lassie to never let anyone know of its location.

In the midst of all these troubles, I’m not really thinking, “Damn, this is one helluva fun ride!” Especially since I know each WIP is designed to teach me how to write that particular book. It doesn’t know anything about the challenges of the next book. I’m constantly studying for an exam I’ll never take.

Still, it only makes sense to enjoy this wild ride while we’re on it. Because, at the end, when the book is done and you’re eager to start on that new idea glimmering in your brain. . .

You’re going to completely forget the last WIP started out this same exact way. And that’s the way it should be.


Tell us about your current WIP – and is it a walk in the park? Or something that needs to go into the deepest well…

Writing with Emotion by Laura Drake is on Monday – don’t miss out!


Bio: I have worked as an attorney, winery tasting room manager, and retail business owner, but nothing beats the thrill of writing humorously-ever-after romances.

I reside in New England, although I fantasize about spending the rest of my days in a tropical locale, wearing flip flops year-round, or in Regency London, scandalizing the ton.

I can usually be found on Twitter, talking about writing and coffee, and on Facebook, talking about coffee and writing.




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10 Responses to “Cracking the WIP with Donna Cummings”

  1. Thanks for having me here again! And I’m glad you got a chuckle out of the title. It just kind of popped up in my brain, like so many things. It’s like a percolator in there. LOL

    Posted by Donna Cummings | November 6, 2015, 5:02 am
  2. Great post, Donna! You are so right, sometimes moving forward seems impossible, and I feel so stupid when I don’t know what happens next. But you’ve taken away that burden – “The story hasn’t been written yet. NOBODY knows what happens next.”

    Now, on to grind out my 1667 words for Nanowrimo today!

    Posted by Frances Brown w/a Claire Gem | November 6, 2015, 7:32 am
    • I constantly feel like I’m fumbling around, trying to figure out what happens next. And it doesn’t help when my characters are standing there waiting for me to figure it out. LOL Good luck with NaNo! I’m doing it this year too, although I didn’t get to write yesterday, so I’ve got to double up today. Eeek!

      Posted by Donna Cummings | November 6, 2015, 1:46 pm
  3. I loved this post! It’s full of the kind of humor and attitude that makes me want to just get to my writing computer and dive in.

    Which I might just do right now. Thank you!

    Posted by Natalie J. Damschroder | November 6, 2015, 1:32 pm
  4. Afternoon Donna!

    My WIP’s like to tease me with the wrong beginning…I start off with a great opening line, fumble around for 3 chapters and THEN the beginning of the story shows up. Drives me crazy.

    Thanks for the fun post Donna…braincrumbs…lol….perfect!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 6, 2015, 3:05 pm
    • Carrie, I know what you mean about the beginning of the story showing up later. That happened to me with a series. What I thought was Book 1 ended up being Book 3. LOL I guess my braincrumbs weren’t leaving the right clues. 🙂

      Posted by Donna Cummings | November 6, 2015, 8:17 pm
  5. LOL – I love the title of this post! I love puns, which is probably not a good thing when I’m thinking of titles. 🙂 On the other hand, if you read cozy mysteries, those titles are a pun free-for-all!

    Great post – thank you!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | November 6, 2015, 10:02 pm


  1. […] Cracking The WIP. From Romance University. By Donna Cummings. Read more… […]

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