I’ve been working so hard on novels the last few years that I’ve forgotten how useful it is to write short. Very short.
If you’re having trouble buckling down to that novel (you know who you are), or if you’re in a rut with your project, loosen up by writing in short bursts. Things you must have: A timer with a bell, a pen and pad of paper. A pen frees you up because it all looks so drafty. It doesn’t need to be good–for timed writing exercises that’s just the attitude you want to have.
One of my favorite exercises (works best with a group) is to ask everyone to contribute a starting line or phrase like “Whipped cream on french fries” or “We went down to the shore at night.” Then everyone writes from that prompt. Set the timer for five minutes. You’re done. Read out loud (no critiquing) then set the timer for ten minutes. Pull the next sentence out of the bowl, and write again. End with a twenty-minuter.
I promise that in one hour you will write things that surprise you, and maybe knock your socks off. Some pieces will be clunkers, but the idea is to warm up, not create deathless fiction. Try flash fiction on your own, too. It’s fun, and it teaches you to trust that the words will come.
The talking pen
Another exercise I like: Pick up your favorite pen and ask it to tell you what you should write and why. No, really. Ask your pen. It might take a few minutes for it to warm up and trust that you’ll really listen. Refer to yourself as “he” or “she,” because this is, after all, your pen writing.
This is one way to find some of your deeper material. Because, we do want to tell stories that matter to us. What things have you learned in your life? Where have you been, and what did it mean to you? Sometimes those things are buried away. Thus letting the pen talk for awhile. (For more on this topic, see my blog The Heart of Your Story.)
Some admittedly bad poetry
Here are my personal results from the two prompts listed above. (They were for poetry, thus the short phrases.) No editing. And not even very good, but just to be fearless:
Whipped cream on french fries. Bracelets on poodles. Baseball gloves with diamonds. Cheaters as lovers. Cats sharing milk. Bad girls turning good. Birds writing poems. Mothers flying away. My pen talking out loud. Soda pouring from faucets. Manuscript in the sink. A strange day. It all happened, except the bracelets.
We went down to the shore at night. Toes in inky water. Head full of clouds. Storm coming in. Waves dissolving toes. Going in deeper, up to the knees. More ink, more waves, more storm. Wind slapping face, ink writing on my neck. Going so deep. Shore far behind. Where are my friends? Went with the wind, left with the clouds. Wrote goodbyes, ink on sand. See you later. After the storm.
Hey, no critiques, remember?