We all get stuck. In writing and life, it’s easy to get hung up on a decision— finding the right word, the right job, the right opportunity. In my writing, for example, I can hem and haw over a phrase or fact for 30 minutes or more. A recovering perfectionist, I tend to be one of those writers who only rarely uses discrete drafts or versions. I’ll edit the same document ad nauseam, polishing and scrubbing and tweaking. Placeholders, I’ve found, can help us get unstuck and avoid these cul-de-sacs of indecision and inaction. In 2009, I took Patti Wolter’s fantastic magazine editing class at Medil
l. There, I learned one of the most simple but effective tricks—a kind of placeholder, you could call it— to keep writing when the right word, fact or phrase wasn’t at hand. For editors and journalists, it’s a commonplace, workman-like tool of the trade. When I first learned of it, though, it felt like a magic trick.