Writers write. That short and simple definition doesn’t need any further explanation, but to non-writers it’s not particularly insightful into how writers get their work done.
For many writers, the way to get their writing done is just to jump in and start the process and trust that a miracle will occur somewhere along the line. And, it usually does. I think of it like warming up for a running race: the warm-up isn’t defined by any goal except to get moving, and that’s the way to build up your system for the real work.
Writing is often the same way: you just need to start putting down words. It doesn’t matter what quality they are and it doesn’t matter if you erase them fifteen minutes after you’ve written them. Nothing is more difficult to overcome than the blank page syndrome, and writing something — anything — will clutter up that page and get you mentally moving. And yes, I’ve written grocery lists and to-do lists that have helped me to jump-start the writing process.
So, if you are a writer then, by definition, you need to write. If you are stuck on a project or can’t get started, then put it aside and start writing something else. Usually the momentum that you build up will let you pick up that project and make headway with it. So, to avoid working on the writing project you really want or need to tackle, write something else.
Which is what I’m doing by writing this post. I should be working on some freelance articles or editing my novel, but this is what I did. But at least I’m writing!
Welcome to this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt. I just got back from a weekend in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, where I attended the Strasburg Railroad’s Steampunk Unlimited event. I stayed at the Red Caboose Motel, which has real cabooses and train cars that have been turned into motel rooms. The motel also has a petting zoo that included sheep, goats, and chickens. Lots of chickens.
I’ve learned that roosters don’t just crow at dawn. Ten o-clock at night and three in the morning work just as well. But I’m not complaining about the birds. I can’t say that the chickens kept me awake or woke me up, and it was nice to hear something other than the constant roar of Interstate traffic for a few nights.
For this week’s prompt, I’m giving you a list of things that I encountered on my trip. Your task is to incorporate them into a short story of any length. Here are the items:
I bet you didn’t expect the chicken, did you? Now, go and write.
I decided not to do NaNo this year because I have a novel from 2011 to revise and one from 2012 to complete, plus I’m working on various freelance articles and a research paper. This is my year for finishing some projects instead of starting new ones and leaving them half-baked and cluttering my hard drive and desk.
I am drawing on the incredible power of NaNo to fuel my writing for those other projects, however. One thing I’ve learned from doing two years of NaNo is that setting word-count goals is very, very helpful. (And it’s very, very helpful when I reach them, too!) So setting word goals has become part and parcel of all my writing these days, and I find that it powers me through the rocky patches when I really don’t feel like writing. If I can get started I can generally keep working on a project and make progress, and that’s what counts.
Do you use goal setting for your writing, or do you just jump in and start working? This isn’t the same thing as pantsers versus outliners. Take the short poll below and let the world know what motivates you to get those words written. Your Thursday Writing Prompt this week is to set yourself some goals and meet them. And if you’re doing NaNo, you already know that 1,667 is the magic number of words per day you need to write to meet that 50K mark!
But other writing projects can benefit from this approach, too. Just be sure to set realistic goals or otherwise you won’t meet them and that leads to frustration instead of inspiration. I’m finding that about 700 words for nonfiction writing that requires research is about right for me. Anything more and I just burn out, although sometimes switching to a second project I can get in another 100-200 words before I totally frazzle.
A scene in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. False infrared.
Halloween is just a week away and my deadlines are looming for some freelance writing projects, while other projects are just getting started. In honor of the season, I will be doing some research on the Goat Man, a local legend in Prince George’s County, Maryland, for a forthcoming encyclopedia volume on myth and legend. I’ll post more information about the project as we get closer to the publication date.
Your Thursday Writing Prompt is to write a scene for a haunted-building thriller. The photo above is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, located in historic Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. The architecture is Neo-Gothic, which is a fairly typical setting for haunted houses. Feel free to use the atmospheric image for inspiration, or make a modern building your setting.
Your task is to build atmosphere for a story. Use descriptive language for the setting, and be sure to include sensory details, such as smells or sounds. Weather is a perennial topic for a haunted setting, and you can use rain, wind, or thunderstorms to great effect. Aim for 350 words and don’t worry about the story or characters — just build the setting. This exercise is mainly a task in building atmosphere, not plot. Have fun!
Hi there writers! This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt invites you to find inspiration from arts or crafts. It’s also a way for me to show off my new retro-inspired scarf. I found the yarn at JoAnn’s and fell in love with the colors. I usually buy yarn without an idea in mind just because I like the color or texture, but this time I had a good idea of what I wanted to accomplish before I actually got to the cash register.
You probably have some hobby or skill other than writing. How can you draw from that for inspiration? For crochet, knitting, or yarn work of any type, color and texture can be helpful. Woodworking might suggest grain or shapes, while beading might suggest repetition and pattern. Your Thursday Writing Prompt is to find something from your own arts or hobbies, or look at photos on the Internet for inspiration and write a story outline of at least 350 words. To ramp up the challenge, set yourself a timer for 30 minutes and get writing.
A lonely barn, somewhere along a spooky country road in Maryland.
It hasn’t escaped my notice that it’s nearly the middle of October. At this point I still haven’t decided whether I am going to write something new for National Novel Writing Month or continue to edit what I have. It would be best for me to edit and get something done, but this year I have so many writer friends doing NaNo it’s hard to resist the siren call of the keyboard.
Okay, enough about me right now. This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt draws from the photo for inspiration. You are driving down a country road and there are no other vehicles in sight. You see this barn, and you glance in your rearview mirror. The image looks discolored, a deep red, and way off in the distance you see headlights coming up behind you. Now write a short story based on who or what catches up to you, and turn that into an urban legend.
A sweetgum leaf overlaid with a rainbow that I photographed on my office wall.
‘Tis the season! It’s officially fall here in the Northern Hemisphere and that means the leaves and starting to come down. There is always at least one tree in my neighborhood that gets frightened and drops all its leaves in the last days of summer, and there’s always at least one (usually an oak tree) that holds on to its carbonaceous wealth until the middle of January or so.
I’m busy in the middle of several writing projects, including more than a dozen encyclopedia articles on a variety of historical subjects, a short story for an anthology, and editing my 2011 NaNo novel. I plan to finish the editing on that this fall if I have to duct tape myself to my chair until it’s done. I’m thinking hard about whether to embark on another novel project in November, but common sense tells me not to overload myself. The artistic part of me yearns for yet more creative options. In a nutshell, I haven’t decided whether I’m going to do NaNo this year, but it’s a lot of fun.
This week I’ll be working on an elevator pitch for the novel and hashing out the details at a writer’s group meeting on Wednesday.