Write Like You’re Playing Spider Solitaire

Spider Solitaire – the beginning… A blank page.

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve become a bit addicted to Spider Solitaire.

I started playing it as a way to clear my head between emails and writing, and social media and writing, and sometimes when writing just isn’t moving as well as I hoped and I wanted a nudge. If you read that last part and thought “procrastination tool” you’d be right. Sometimes Spider Solitaire is exactly that: a way for me to avoid the page.

Because a blank page, or even just a blank few lines with you’re revising, can be daunting and intimidating. So many thoughts are going through your head: What are you trying to say? What is the character trying to say? Should they be doing that action now? Would they say this dialog? Does this make sense? Is this believable? WHAT AM I DOING…?

All writers go through this in every manuscript they write, from their first to their last. We all want to get it right, but in stories, that “right” is elusive and subjective. There are so many possibilities for what’s “right” for the story, and what’s right at this moment, might not be two chapters down the line when you know more about the characters and what they really want. As writers, we know this, and as humans, we want to find that right the first time. But so often that’s not how writing works.

That’s where Spider Solitaire comes in — and this time I’m not talking about it as a procrastination tool.

Spider Solitaire – the middle… Trying different moves and seeing what works. (P.S. this game wasn’t as hard as others.)

If you’ve never played Spider Solitaire, there are probably a million free apps that you can download (I use the free Microsoft version on my computer) — but I warn you that once you’ve got the hang of it, it can be quite addictive. So maybe you should just keep reading and not start. 🙂

The game can seem complicated: two packs of cards, split into 10 piles with another pile for replenishment and, like in regular Solitaire, the goal is to get these into piles of red/black from King to Ace. (You can find the rules here, but again, remember my warning above about getting addicted.) I play on the master level in Microsoft’s version and that can definitely be challenging. Often it seems like there are no good moves and there’s no possible way the game could be won, even though it’s supposed to be solvable.

So how does this help with writing?

Well, it doesn’t really :), but one of things I’ve learned in Spider Solitaire is that success comes with uncovering new cards and getting an empty space to play around in. To do this, especially in the harder games, you have to do moves that might seem like they’ll get you nowhere, because those moves will uncover new cards and maybe two or three cards down in a pile is a card that will tie all these moves together to start a set. And to do this, at least in the electronic version of the game, the Undo button is my friend.

Here’s how this translates to writing:

In stories, success comes with uncovering new details, like what your character wants, their voice, research about setting or time… etc. And those empty lines of a page allow you to play around with those details and see what ideas they bring up.

To do this, you’ll write sentences, pages, even scenes that might seem like they’ll get you nowhere, but those words will uncover new ideas, new wants or personality traits for your characters, new details and conflicts that will add to the story.

And to do this, you have to know that the delete button (or save as, if you prefer) is your friend.

Spider Solitaire – the end… After many tries, many hits of the delete button, many revisions, you find the path to your story and win. Time to celebrate!

Just like it’ll take many tries to find the path to get out a game of Spider Solitaire, it’ll take many tries to find the path of a story.

Your manuscript doesn’t have to be — and indeed won’t be — perfect the first time around. Your first draft is about figuring things out, playing. You’ll go down many paths that will end up as deadends. But all those paths will have taught you something, even if it’s just that this is not the right path for the story. In revision, you’ll find the same thing, rewriting section after section until you find the one that works. And not just the one that works, but the one that works best.

So, next time you’re staring at a blank page, or stuck on where your story should go next, take these lessons from Spider Solitaire:

  • Make moves that seem like they won’t yield anything, because they just might lead you somewhere good.
  • Write and rewrite and rewrite again, because each time you’re getting closer to the heart of your story.
  • Don’t be afraid to delete or save and start over, because when you know what doesn’t work, you’ll be that much closer to what does.

And with that, I’m heading back to my draft, to try some new paths and see where they lead.

Are there any games that you play that inspire your writing?

See you on the page…


What do you think?