The 100 Day Writing Challenge – Day 2 Transcript
Hello and welcome to the 100 Day Writing Challenge, Week 1, Day 2.
First of all I’d just like to congratulate you for coming back. Approximately half the people who listened to yesterday’s episode will, for whatever reason, give up. They won’t keep going. And that’s fine, I just want to point out that by sticking with this, by returning for Day 2, you’ve already overcome by far the hardest hurdle that most people face, which is inertia. That ability to keep going when you’ve not yet established a habit. So well done.
Yesterday I asked you to do a list exercise. I think lists are one of my favourite creative writing exercises. That’s partly because in our heads there’s a clear line between writing a list, and attempting to tell a story. We don’t buy books of lists, we don’t award literary prizes to lists, there’s no sense in which list writing is art.
And that’s useful. It’s like we get to drop a fire curtain between our practice and our perfectionism, our awareness of the gap between what’s coming out and what one of those magical, legitimate novels we see in shops reads like. You can’t really ace a list of made-up names. You can’t really flunk it either, except by not doing it at all. And then all you’ve done is delayed it. Ok, I’ll do it now, then.
But I’m not giving you these exercises purely as an abstract form of exposure therapy. Because the creative list is a tremendously valuable machine for idea generation. Like maybe looking at the list of names you wrote yesterday, one or two names started to suggest a character. A personality. An appearance. A genre. Maybe two names look weirdly like they belong together.
That there, is the essence of a writer’s mind. You’ve got divergent thinking: generating that big list of names, just spewing them out, and maybe at some point they get weird, a few feel embarrassing or wrong. They break the rules of acceptable names in some way. And then, your mind goes: how can I make this name fit? In what world would this name work? How could these names fit together?
Now that second part is convergent thinking. You’ve exploded out with possibilities and now you’re cherrypicking, you’re finding patterns, you’re – almost without trying – working these elements together into a meaningful whole.
And these are skills that don’t just apply to writing, right? This process of possibility generation and analysis involves a pair of fundamental evolutionary skills. It’s one of the reasons human beings have been so successful as a species. And I say that just to, right from the start, junk this idea that only some people are born storytellers. Asking ‘what if?’ and spotting patterns are central to human cognition. Storytelling is hardwired into our brains.
So today I’m going to ask you to produce a second list. All this first week, in fact, is going to be about lists. And I’ll talk a bit more about the why of lists and how you might use them throughout your writing practice, but for now I just want to press on with today’s exercise.
So yesterday I asked you to list some fictional names. Today is slightly more personal but hopefully fun. I’d like you to list as many things as you can that you love. Things you love. Things you feel passionate about. Things that make you happy.
I’m not asking for a conventional gratitude list of the sort you might write in your journal. Just a real, specific list of things you really, really dig. And it can be in any domain from the super profound to the ultra mundane – in fact, it would be good if you have a range of big and small things. Like, I love Weetabix Protein mixed with chocolate protein powder, I love boardgames especially ones where we’re all sat round quietly stroking our chins and staring at the board puzzling over our next moves, I love the little coloured acrylic gems you get with boardgames, I love the little wooden chicken pieces I got with one of my games, I love dancing with earphones on to music no one else can hear, I love running, I love the feeling when I’ve been in freezing water for a minute and my body acclimatises, I love it when someone drums with drumsticks on a table, I love when my daughter Suki cuddles into me while we’re watching TV, I love toast just slightly underdone so it’s soft inside, I love the smell of gunpowder in a box of fireworks, I love the cushions in churches for kneeling on, I love receiving parcels, I love birthday cakes with buttercream or chocolate icing, not fondant, I love rolling dice, I love teaching creative writing, I love thinking up stories, I love nerdy t-shirts, I love cool swordfights, I love it when a baddie in a story gets redeemed, I love compassion and kindness, I love puns, I love really cool ideas for superpower or magic. And I could go on and on. But I am sure you get the point.
That’s what I’m asking for from you. What you love. Big or small. What rocks your world, big or small, be it animal, vegetable, mineral, intangible. Try to get a range in. Try to be specific. Where you can, engage your five senses. Think of smells, tastes and sensations you love. People you love. Experiences you love. Places you love. Go to town.
That’s it. That’s the exercise today. Again, I appreciate not everything I ask you to do is going to look like a conventional fiction workshop exercise. There are reasons for that. I hope that’s ok.
So you’re going to have ten minutes from when I say go, until you hear the gong. I recommend not worrying about quality or spelling, not going back to edit. Just getting it out. Are you ready?
And that’s your time.
How was that for you? What sort of things did you come up with? Did they change over the ten minutes? Did you start with more general things and get more specific? Did you dot about randomly or work systematically through categories of experience? You know, taste-based things. Things related animals. Family things. Or whatever.
And how did you feel as you wrote these things down? Did you find you edited yourself? Was there anything you almost wrote down then stopped yourself? Did you judge any of the things you wrote down? Decide any weren’t good enough or phrased well enough? Too similar to something you’d written before? Not original enough? Too cheesy? Did you get blocked, even, because some things didn’t seem good enough, or you worried you didn’t really love that thing enough for it to count?
There’s really no right or wrong answers here. All I’m asking is that you reflect on your experience because that’s where the growth happens. It’s quite all right even if you find yourself thinking, this is a dreadful exercise, Tim is a crank. That’s fine, I’m very comfortable with criticism, just as long as you notice it and the feelings that accompany it.
Right, so that’s a second day done. Two days finished already. The time is flying by. Well done for turning up once again, and I’ll see you tomorrow.