One of the best pieces of writing advice I received was from my advisor/computer science professor in college. He was extremely prolific when it came to writing academic papers and part of how he accomplished this was writing drafts quickly. If he was stuck or didn’t have final results to reference yet, he’d simply add placeholder text. He encouraged us to do the same. The goal, he said, was to get everything down on the page and see the overall structure.
In publishing and journalism, the abbreviation “TK,” which (confusingly) stands for “to come,” is used to note material that will be added in later. I start every single one of these newsletters with “TKTK” as the title.
I’ve tried to apply this placeholder approach in my own writing and it’s helped a lot with getting into a flow state. I used to go off on Google tangents or venture down Wikipedia holes when I sat down to write. But now, rather than pausing to search something in order to flesh out a detail, I just add “TKTK.” Sometimes I even get more specific, like a character who is a fan of “TK SPORT TEAM.”
The first few times I started doing this, it felt really strange. The writing was...weirdly easier?? I was observing and noting things I’d have to come back to, but being able to move on to the next scene or sentence was freeing. I was able to keep up my momentum and focus. I wasn’t striving for completion. I was writing to figure things out.
It’s not that those details aren’t important. It’s that you can find yourself getting lost in them while you’re still trying to figure out the overall shape of the story. Despite rationally knowing that a perfect first draft will never exist, its allure sometimes makes me too precious with my writing. It’s been helpful for me when I draft because the TK is an explicit acknowledgement that this is a work in progress. Since a lot of writer’s block is rooted in the fear of being bad, seeing my screen dotted with TKs helps break me out of that quest for perfectionism. When I see a TK, it feels neutral. The writing isn’t good or bad yet—it just needs more work.
They’re also signposts for your future self, reminders when it’s time to revise. The more descriptive my placeholders, the more I remember how those details play into larger elements like plot and characterization. In the current story I’m working on, there’s a party where two characters bring gifts. I don’t know what they are yet, just “TK expensive gift” and “TK sentimental gift.” The TKTKs reveal how the gifts reflect their givers and how they might stir up trouble between the characters.
If you’re struggling with a scene or find yourself easily distracted by so-called research, add a placeholder instead. Need some more dialogue to fill out this conversation? "TKTK!" Need to add some more descriptions to change the pacing of the scene? TKTK! As long as you have an understanding of the “why” behind the “what,” it’s easier to come back and fill in those blanks.
- Check out The Fairest Writer’s free Fall Workshop Series. Workshops cover pitching, revision, book deals, and more.
- Lincoln Michel on the Bad Art Friend/Kidney Person saga and what material is acceptable to “steal” for literature.
- A web tool to analyze your writing solely based on punctuation. I pasted in a few thousand words I’ve written recently and could see which sections were heavy on dialogue, where I leaned into descriptions and action, and how I overuse em dashes.
- Maud Newton on what it means when life gives you ‘great material’: “It puzzles me when people congratulate a writer, or any artist, on having ‘such great material’ from a difficult past.”
- “Ten Things Nobody Tells You About the Publishing Industry” by Kilby Blades
Recent reads & other media
I’m deep into Halloween nostalgia, rewatching The Nightmare Before Christmas (a new meaning to good soup!) and 90s Scooby-Doo movies. I also watched Venom and Venom 2 with some friends. I appreciate that, unlike other superheroes, Tom Hardy only gets progressively sweatier and grosser as the movie goes on.
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~ meme myself and i ~
The height of luxury is drinking three liquids at once. Wholesome Halloween decorations. Me trying to read Dune before the movie comes out. The only immersive art experience I will accept. Surfer cat and a samoyed in a backpack. Recording the double clap guy.