Staring at a blank page?
No me, my friend; I’m already off and writing this blog post, charmed by the prolific Charles Bukowski, “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” (The Last Night of the Earth Poems)
Garnering the wisdom of two of my favorite writing instructors, I’m here to solve your blank-page-trauma in only five minutes. Yes, you can be power-typing a brand new story before a fresh pot of tea is ready. Here are my tried-and-true, never-fail rules for copious creativity:
Know what a story is. If you haven’t already (why haven’t you?) get yourself over to WiredForStory.com, home of famed storycraft maven Lisa Cron. You must learn, internalize and copy/paste at the top of your page Lisa’s mantra:
A story is HOW and WHY what happens (the plot) affects (the protagonist) who is in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (what the story is about).
If your idea is “Mom makes a peanut butter sandwich,” then apply Lisa’s guideline as follows: Why does she make it? Does she have a child who will order a burger and fries in the school cafeteria if no PB&J is offered? Slow down the action and tell us HOW she makes it. Make her think about the pattern on the plate, the weight of knife, and whether she’ll choose Tupperware or a ziplock and WHY. How does she feel about all this? When the sandwich is complete, how has she changed by the experience? Satisfied in her parenting skills, or comforted after concern from pediatrician about high fat and cholesterol in child’s diet? Is she thinking about her own mother, or suffering any symptoms as a result of a nut allergy?)
Writing Prompt Helpers. That peanut butter sandwich prompt was genius Rebecca, but where can I get ideas so shiny and bright? Generally, I have a character or situation to begin with–especially when I’m starting a new chapter in an existing fiction piece. If I’m at ground zero, I Google “writing prompts,” like a trained chimp, ahem. The silliest prompt can elicit some profound thoughts, so don’t be afraid to grab the first one and go.
Brainstorm without borders. For no-nonsense writing advice from an accomplished writer and busy mom, you can’t go wrong with Author Jody Hedlund. I love her brainstorming plan, and I think it’s a must-do at the beginning of every creative venture. Jody says, “Before writing, I come up with pages of ‘what if’ possibilities for my story. I make long lists of all kinds of wild and crazy ideas that I could include in the story. I don’t limit myself. No idea is too stupid. I write down everything and anything… Usually the first few ideas we have are somewhat boring and cliched. So if we stop there, we’ll find ourselves frustrated. But if we list a hundred (or more ideas), then finally we’ll start digging deep enough into the creative well to pull out fresh ideas that excite us.”
This is solid advice, but one HUNDRED? (Yes!)
My next tip will save you from spending the entire weekend on that list…
The 5 Minute Miracle This is my own, personal, golden ticket. I set my phone or kitchen alarm for 5 minutes and I type as fast as my little fingers can. I don’t care about spelling, punctuation, capitalization–nada. I don’t stop to sip my coffee or pet the cat. I type without censure. You may call it stream of consciousness, but it isn’t. Why? Because of Lisa Cron’s mantra at the top of my page. I start with who, and I steer myself toward how, and that leads me to why, and then aha! Even I didn’t see coming the natural progression to the change experienced by my protag as a result. I type these scenarios as fast as I can, and when the alarm goes off, I have several ideas, a bunch of junk to be edited or cut, and some real, solid, satisfying fiction leads I may have taken HOURS to arrive at, without these tools.
Same goes for dialogue. If I’m working a scene and I don’t know exactly what my characters ought to say, I five-minute the heck out of them, and when the buzzer goes I’m surprised to learn what they “really” wanted to say all along.
Set your alarm, find a prompt, and let the five-minute-miracle unfold.
Oh, then tweet me about your adventure @TheRJLacko –or comment below, of course!