Writing Tip: Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble: Getting Started

Posted on 05. Jan, 2011 by in Blog, Writing Tips

Good morning. Today’s tip for ‘Writing Short in a Digital World’ is about kick-starting your creativity. What can you do when the storytelling voice in your head is silent? What if you have no ideas at all?

First, a caveat: every writer has their own process. I’m going to share mine, but yours may be different. Part of a writer’s job is to learn how to nourish and mine their own creativity, and I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to share what works for you. Bear in mind that, similar to harvesting crops in a field, for most creatives (which is all of us), the process of creation include periods of lying fallow.

So, don’t be dismayed if you haven’t been writing, or if you don’t ‘feel’ like a writer at the moment. A writer is someone who writes. Once you put pen to paper (or fingers to keys), and start producing words – voila! You’re a writer again.

For me, writing short is like tuning to a particular bandwidth on the radio. I need to be on FM, where transmissions are clear, but sometimes I’m on AM, experiencing ‘interference’. ‘Interference’ includes, but is not limited to, the never-ending to-do list, email, Facebook notifications (irresistible! What’s on my wall now?), texts from my kids, the sweet, old-fashioned phone, and Tweets.

OK, Step 1: look at today’s to-do list. Cross off everything that can wait until tomorrow. Add ‘WRITE TEN MINUTES’ (or however long works for you) and, if helpful, pick a specific time (I like 12 noon because it’s close to lunchtime and I feel justified in leaving my computer for a cup of tea and change of activity.) Also, I put ‘WRITE TEN MINUTES’ to trick myself. I know that, quite probably, I’ll take half an hour or an hour, but committing that amount of time when my mind is empty of ideas is a bit too frightening.

Step 2: This writing time can be for anything that helps ideas begin to percolate. I go to my bookshelf and browse my short story collections. Some writers make me want to write and others shut me down (I don’t always know why, exactly, but I do know, as you might suspect, to select stories in the first category). Usually I choose a ‘Sudden Fiction’ anthology, one of William Trevor’s collections and maybe something short by Katherine Mansfield.

Step 3: I get in the car and spend ten minutes reading the ‘Sudden Fiction’ anthology. Browsing the short pieces, some familiar, some new, somehow sets my internal writing rhythm to short.

Step 4: I go for a drive, taking a scenic route, and think about the things that confuse or amaze me, like why a child has to grow up and leave, or the early blooming of an old magnolia tree. When words appear, I pull over and, without caring about how good they are, I write them down.

That’s it. Not complicated. I write about things that move me so, as long as I have energy to care, I have words to write. And as long as I set myself a deadline, I have a reason to stir the pot and get new ideas bubbling.

Finally, for those of you who read the previous tip, ‘Staring a New Story – Where to Begin?’, you may be wondering what the answers to those questions about character were. Here they are:

When I woke up this morning, I realized I want to write about a mother and daughter. My eyes are tearing as I write this, so I know I’m on the right track. My daughter is going to college in 8 months. I’m thrilled for her, of course, and profoundly impressed by her hard work, but oh…my little girl is leaving. She is the first of my two children to leave home (my son is 14) and, in horrible anticipation of her departure, I hear a deep drum beat, counting down the weeks, days, and hours we have left together.

Ay carumba. I’m exhausted before I’ve even begun. But, through the writing of the story, I’ll look for a way to appreciate something about this period of time, to change my focus from loss to gratitude. Well, that’s the goal, anyway. Also, because this is so close to home, I’ll need distance from this character. I’ll make her older, a selfish, outspoken woman who doesn’t want to be left behind, and we’ll see what happens.

Good luck, and happy writing!

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