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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Get Out of the Way

Writing prompts that involve several words have never appealed to me. I need something very basic but full of possibility, like a single word. If someone says, "Write about faith" or "Write about filth" I might write about religion. If they say, "Write about worms" or "Write about politicians", it's the same topic. But I get to interpret with fewer boundaries. No one is asking me to incorporate "Tea, sidewalks, amusement parks and trout" into one writing. That's too narrow. I have to really think about it which gets in the way.

Thinking too much is self-consciousness, like pulling fragile petals from blooms.

I think we write best when we stop thinking about writing, about words, grammar and spelling. Those concerns are for the later edit. The left brain. Stephen King once wrote that we should write our first draft "with the door closed". We should write without concern that anyone in the world will ever read it, without any thought that anyone else even exists. It's just us and our story, a whole that moves unselfconsciously, like a toddler or Mother Nature without pruning.

I do struggle with this. In fact, I edited the last eight words I wrote twice before I put a period at the end. It's like an itch I can't ignore, fixing something the moment I know it's wrong. But did I lose my flow? Forget my point? Lose a bloom of right-brain wholeness as I pulled the petals off mid-flower?

There are few instances that we don't have to worry about how we are perceived. Those moments usually happen when we're alone, windows covered, doors locked. We can walk around naked, watch infomercials or eat an entire gallon of Blue Bell peppermint ice cream. We can pass gas, scream expletives or touch ourselves. No one will see. No one will ever know unless we tell them or gain fifty pounds from the Blue Bell. But personal writings meant for the public eye are subject to criticism.

Writing is the only art measured by itself. Paintings aren't critiqued with more painting. Songs aren't reviewed with more singing. Only writing is reviewed using the same canvas, brushes, microphones and voices. And this difference makes it more vulnerable somehow. It is easier to take apart "i" with another "i".

Maybe we'd write better if we weren't so nervous about being naked, so protective that we stand in the way. Maybe every writing prompt should begin with the phrase: Get out of the way...

I wish I could.


  1. I used to be very resistant to writing to prompts, thinking it a false approach, being dictated to rather than having words coming from within me.
    But having a) begun writing fiction (which I know you do little of, but when you do it has been superb) and b) started with Thinking Ten, I now use them a lot and find them invaluable, especially when I make them work for me For example, I needed at least twenty-four characters for last year's NaNoWriMo novel and allowed prompts to dictate a story for more than a dozen.
    Additionally, the various limitations, of time or words, and soetimes of genre, create a discipline and allow me to play with different voices, in the 'closed door' way you describe above.
    All of which is my opinion/experience only - I am not intending to be evangelistic!
    And I would also say that reliance on prompts can stifle the 'within me' writing, hence my sparsity of posts on 6S lately.

  2. I have, effective immediately, decided to made it a lifelong goal of mine to get you to write at least one story on T10. I may continue to fail miserable on this front, but I'm gonna try.

    Sunday Times (The Teresa Cortez Anti-Prompt)
    The only rules: (1) Pick up the Sunday newspaper; (2) write whatever comes to mind for 10 minutes

  3. I generally don't have problems with prompts as long as they're just for getting my juices flowing. Anything up for public consumption generally has to come from within.