(From Mago de Oz - Ancha es Castilla)
It’s February and I haven’t written much and you know what? That’s okay!
I did read three books in January, though, so I’m hoping to, at the very least, beat last year’s record of 25 books.
(If you’re wondering: James SA Corey’s Nemesis Games; Junot Diaz’s Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; and John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. Currently working on Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice)
So for this week’s Tuesday Thoughts post, I wanted to talk about something I actually haven’t talked a lot about in the coming on 11 months of this blog: Writing prompts.
I hate writing prompts.
I’ve made the comparison before that writing can feel like pooping. You want to poop before you go to the restroom. You don’t go there if there’s no need to poop.
Please note that this opinion is my own. You can either agree with it or disagree with it, but don’t think I’m going to get on a soapbox about this being the right way to do things. It’s not. Nor is it the wrong way. It’s my way.
My problem with prompts is because of that poop analogy. If you go to a bathroom and force yourself to poop when you don’t have to, your body is going to make you pay. My writing is the same way when it comes to prompts. If the story comes out naturally, it’s always, without fault, better than any story I’ve written following a prompt.
Write a story that features a cat, a missing key, and hand sanitizer.
A creative writer could write a quick short story or flash fiction about a cat swallowing a key or something. A creative writer also has the ability to say, no, I don't want to write about a cat, a missing key, and hand sanitizer.
Actively avoiding writing prompts means I deprive myself of a very common tool used to combat writer's block. Instead, I take a mathematical approach. This is funny because I hate math and have always done poorly...except in two occasions: The first was in college, Spring '07, where I aced my Math for Liberal Arts class because it was so EASY. The second, and most significant time, was earlier than that in my senior year of high school. I had to take college algebra and trig. My cousin would tutor me, and the lessons were pretty straightforward, he'd come over around like six, and we'd hole up in the dining room. I'd tell him what I was struggling with, and we'd review the problems.
If I got stuck, we'd go through the problem. We wouldn't skip it. We'd work at that problem, solve it, then try again and again until I got it. We didn't stop and say, okay, you're not understanding how to use the quadratic equation, let's move on to polynomial functions. We stuck to quadratic equations until I goddamned learned quadratic equations for my test.
Everything else in high school came easy. Math didn't. That's why my B in that class was easily one of my proudest grades, if not the proudest.
Now I approach my fiction with that same dogged determination. If I get stuck, I am going to figure out what the problem is and how to solve it. It might mean I am not as prolific a writer as I should or could be, but it also means I'm getting better. For instance, right now I'm re-writing one of my short stories. In the re-write, I've come to realize that it's going to go beyond a simple short story, and rather than having one conflict problem to figure out in terms of advancing the narrative, I'm going to have multiple. So, as soon as i hit those points and I can't tease something out, I stop. I gnaw at the problem like a stubborn piece of fajita that won't go down my throat. I talk to people, I change writing venues, I take notes, I listen. And eventually, I progress. It's a slower pace, but it's a more consistent pace that I'd rather get done right the first time in order to avoid having to scrap the whole thing on a rewrite.
But, like I said, that's my process. In my writer's resources link, you'll find I linked to a writing prompt site (Writing Prompts That Don't Suck). That link has a whole host of writing prompts that don't involve "DESCRIBE YOUR CLOTHES AS A TREE" bullshit that I hate.