When no choice is the right choice
I started my writing career as a short story writer. As soon as my stories started selling in significant numbers I realised it was no good sitting around waiting for the ideas for my next stories to come to me. I had to go out and find them.
I read every how to book I could get my hands on that contained advice on how to get ideas. One of the methods I liked most was the use of writing prompts.
But the problem with prompts for me was that I spent way too much time reading through them until I found one that ‘spoke’ to me and inspired me to start writing.
I was doing it the wrong time around.
I’m a Libran and find the whole process of decision making a nightmare. Also by introducing the element of choice, I was using the analytical side of my brain to find the prompt that appealed to me. But, in doing so, the analytical side was overriding the creative side.
All that changed when I discovered daily prompts.
A daily prompt can be anything – a proverb, a quotation, a book title, a fact, an anniversary or merely a phrase. I started compiling a list of them, one for each day of the year. And the time I spent doing this has been repaid over and over again.
The important thing about daily prompts is that they remove the element of choice from the process. Instead, you take whatever prompt is set for that day and get writing before the analytical part of your brain kicks in.
So I tried it and, to my surprise, it worked. It’s still working. And it will work for you, too.
So what do you need?
Ready to give it a try? This is what you’ll need.
- a list of prompts (see below)
- A notebook
- A pen that you enjoy using
- An open mind
These are not set in stone (apart from the open mind). By all means, write on a computer, or even your phone, if you prefer. Or on the back of supermarket receipts, cereal packets or fancy notebooks. Whatever takes your fancy. Use a gold fountain pen, or a ‘free’ pencil from Ikea.
Having said that, I believe it’s important to honour your craft. You’re a writer and proud of it. And consequently, you owe it to yourself to use that special notebook with the kitten on the cover, or the picture of your favourite team. And if you enjoy writing in purple ink, or love the feel of a roller ball as it glides across smooth, thick paper, then go for it. Do whatever makes you feel good. Indulge yourself. Have a good time. Because you’re about to let your inner child out to play. And your inner child is worth it.
Next, take the prompt for whatever day of the week it happens to be (no peeking at tomorrow or yesterday) and start writing.
I’m writing this on 16th March and the prompt for that day, as you will see below, is ‘The Fool on the Hill’ OK, so you don’t want to write about this? I can’t say I did either. Then start by saying so. Start writing about why you don’t want to write about it rather than thinking about it. Just sit down and write. Don’t stop to go back and read what you’ve written. Or to correct spellings or typos. The important thing is that you just keep going and keep the analytical side of your brain out of the way while you do so.
When do you stop?
Sometimes I do a timed ten minutes or whatever time I have to spare. Other times (and this has proved the most productive) I’ll keep writing until I get that ‘buzz’ that tells me I have the beginnings of a story. Or the characters come alive and start telling me their stories. And that’s what keeps me in love with writing.
These prompts aren’t meant to be used every day, although if you can come up with a different story every day for a month then respect to you. But it’s not something I could do because sooner or later you’re going to have to stop playing and settle down to do the tricky stuff.
In his brilliant “On Writing” Steven King, writing about finding ideas says” “Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.” But recognising what makes an idea worth developing into a story is something I’ll explore in another post. At this stage, you’re still scrabbling around in the recesses of your mind for those very ideas.
To sum up, then, the most important thing about these daily prompts is that you don’t have to stop and think what you are going to write about. That decision is taken for you. (Great news for us Librans!)
I’m writing this on March 16th and today’s prompt is “The fool on the hill”.
Go on, then. What are you waiting for? I will if you will. …….
My Fool on the Hill (warts, bad handwriting and all)
The fool on the hill is today’s prompt and it’s not something I want to write about because all that’s going through my mind at the moment is the Beatles’ song and if I am not careful I’m just going to end up writing down the words of the song.
The man with the foolish grin is sitting perfectly still. See? I’m doing it. Why is the man sitting perfectly still? And why the ‘foolish’ grin? Why not one of those grins that are infectious? Like a happy labrador?
Charlie Masterson couldn’t stop smiling. He sat on the bench at the top of the hill without moving. Just sitting there, thinking. And smiling. He tried several times to think of something that made him sad like maths or Man U losing in the last minute. But it was no good. Back would pop that smile again.
Now when I started this I didn’t know I was going to write about a child. But there he is, little Charlie Masterson. Sitting alone at the top of the hill, smiling. I’m not sure I want to write about a teenager though. I think Charlie is much younger (although what is he doing alone on that hill?) and that he knows a secret that he’s bursting to share. But can’t.
I could go on. I probably will because I want to know about Charlie and his secret. Maybe it will turn out to be one of those stories that are based on misunderstandings. I love the way young children can so easily get hold of the wrong end of the stick when they’re trying to make sense of the crazy world of adults. And I really want to know Charlie’s story, so watch this space.
So, are you up for the challenge? Just remember, no picking and choosing. Go with whatever comes up for the day.
As I’m posting this half way through the month of March, I am setting out prompts from March 17th, starting, obviously, with the Fool on the hill.
16.The fool on the hill
17. St. Patrick’s Day. Keeping a promise
18. The ugly duckling
19. This is what happens when someone doesn’t listen properly.
20. Out of sight, out of mind.
21. ‘A host of golden daffodils’. (W. Wordsworth)
22. Crocodile tears.
23. Being inappropriately dressed. (Eg Batman and Robin in Fools and Horses)
24. ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth/Is it to have a thankless child’. (Shakespeare’s King Lear)
25. Write about a Saturday night.
26. You’re in a cafe, the door opens and ….
27. Living a lie.
28. Publish and be damned.
29. The anniversary of the first London Marathon, 1981
30. ‘He had something of the night in him’ (Anne Widdecombe)
31. It’s 2.30am and sleep is a long way off.
Next month, I’ll post the entire month of April.
I’d love to hear which, if any, you used.