The Four Star Treatment
Carol Lindsay

I am writing to beat a deadline. I know what I want do say, how the paragraphs should flow, and then I hit a sentence where I canít grasp the words. Detail eludes me. I say, ďRats.Ē (Yes, itís true I say ďratsĒ out loud. When Iím in cube world with other writers they laugh at me. They know what has just happened.)

Iíve tripped. A detail has halted my momentum and Iím headed for a brain cramp.

Brain cramp is not like writers block. Writerís block means youíve gone blank and canít move forward. Brain cramp means you know what you want to say Ė you know what you want to say for the next two pages (!) - but one word or detail has you sidelined and you canít move past it. You try to think of a word or a way to say something and your treasure trove of experience is bare.

You can spend precious minutes consulting a dictionary or thesaurus while the rest of your good ideas drip out of your ears and scurry away.  Your momentum gets broken and frustration builds.


You can give yourself the four star treatment. Enter four asterisks (****) in place of the words you canít think of right now and forge ahead with your writing. Put the cramp Ė or potential cramp Ė out of your head and just get on with the job.

Later when the ideas are all safely written down and momentum is spent, you can go back and take the time to "fill in the blanks".  The pressure is off so there is less chance of a brain cramp.  You've also had a taste of completion which is always a good emotional frame of mind for coming up with ideas.

If youíre on a computer you can search for the stars. If youíre using pen/pencil and paper, make your stars big. Later on, go back and see where they are and give each one a reference number. On a separate piece of paper write what you meant to say next to the reference number. When youíre typing, you can go to the reference numbers and type in what you want. Kind of like shuffling the cards back into order.

I use the four star treatment a lot. Whenever I am unsure about spelling, have questions or am unsure about where a subject is going, or whenever I want to revisit an area of a book, the four star marker ensures that I donít forget. I donít have to waste time. I donít have to worry.

Donít let details derail your work. Use this tool to free yourself and write as your mind leads.

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About the Writer:

Carol Lindsay is the site administrator of Coffeehouse for Writers.  She also makes her living as a technical and freelance writer.