Firstly, an apology. Observant readers will note that today is Thursday. Yes, I am a day late in posting. Sorry. Life got in the way, in the shape of a migraine, and it’s not funny trying to write with tunnel vision and the pain equivalent of a knitting needle stuck through your eyeball. I figured I might sound somewhat distracted (as indeed I was), so in the spirit of demonstrating how important self care is, I bugged off and went to bed. Today’s post is something of a restart.
For a while I have been feeling the itch to get back to writing original fiction. I’ve been working on fanfiction almost exclusively for a couple of years now, and while it has been hugely instructive in terms of both technique and confidence, I feel like it is time to start making some personal headway again. Hence the restart.
Getting back to basics is one way to do this if, like me, you are feeling a little at sea when it comes to what to write about. And one of the best basics to get back to is the marvellous tool that is the writing exercise.
Writing exercises are based on the idea of stream-of-consciousness and free association. You sit down with your notebook and write for a set amount of time, without judgement or criticism. You are free to make mistakes, try stuff out, experiment with new words, phrases, images, metaphors. This is a free-form space where there are no mistakes, only ideas tried on for fit and comfort.
What you need:
- An allowance of time (10 minutes, 15, half an hour if you have it, or the luxury of more.)
- A notebook (maybe your writing notebook, or one you keep specially for exercises).
- A good pen that you can write easily with.
- A timer.
- A quiet space to work.
- A prompt.
What to do:
Maybe you sit down to write at your desk, and your brain goes blank, or worse, is crowded with too many ideas that are too big to fit into 10 minutes or whoever long you have got, and you freeze.
Say hello to your little friend, the prompt.
A prompt is a word, sentence or idea that you use to start you off. Write it in your notebook. You may like to start a fresh page, thus allowing yourself a psychological fresh start. Set your timer to your allotted amount of time, and off you go.
You start writing whatever comes into your head. You might be writing about yourself, the way you would in your journal, or you might be writing about a character, or from a character’s point of view. You might describe a scene or an experience. Keep writing. Whatever appears on the movie screen of your brain, write it down. And the next thing. And the next thing. Keep going until the bell rings and your time is up.
This is a great way of generating material, especially if you are the kind of writer who finds building up words a process of torture. It is also good for exploring the backstory of your characters, finding out what makes them tick. And of course, you will occasionally find yourself coming back to reality in the middle of a short story that you didn’t even know you had in you, as I often do.
I like to do two or three 15 minute exercises at one sitting, which allows me to really get into the groove. You may not have time for that, and that’s okay. The important thing is that you do the exercises. And do one daily. Limber up. Get into the Habit of Art.
If you find it hard to get yourself into the mood, or to make time, writing exercises are a great tool to use with others. Arrange to meet up with a writing pal at the local café, and do a few prompts together. You don’t have to share what you have written if you don’t want to, but if you make an appointment with someone else, you are more likely to show up at the page and do the work.
Where to find prompts:
Ah! I hear you cry. But where am I supposed to find these fabled prompts?
Well, there are plenty of books around that offer just these kinds of starting grounds. I am very fond of the following:
Search the internet for ‘writers prompts’, or check out http://creativewritingprompts.com/, which is a delight.
In the meantime, here are a few to get you started:
- What does your character carry in their pockets and why?
- I woke with a start…
- My first pet
- A favourite meal