Hello and welcome to the 100 Day Writing Challenge, Week 1 Day 4. If you haven’t listened to the previous days and done those exercises, go back, start from the beginning. If you have, welcome back. It’s so lovely to see you again.
So today I want to piggyback off day 2’s exercise where you wrote about things you love. Now that was a non-fiction exercise. Yesterday we did this hybrid thing where it was sort of fiction but just objects, so there was no dramatic present as such. Just things. Today we’re going to tiptoe a little farther into the realms of fiction.
But again, part of the purpose here, aside from warming up, practising, flexing your muscles, just clocking up the miles on the treadmill and building tone, is to show you that there are a number of ways into fiction. It’s not just about starting at the beginning with sentence one of your novel and writing til you reach ‘the end’. That linear approach seems logical but creativity doesn’t have to obey logic – or at least it doesn’t have to obey the norms and assumptions you bring to the writing process. There’s absolutely no logical reason why the novel writing process can’t include planning, imaginary interviews, talking to yourself, drawing, spider diagrams, writing sections out of sequence, poems, lists, lighting a candle in a darkened room and sitting in stillness until words start to come to you.
Some of that might make you feel silly. Some of it might sound precious or ineffective. But I do think there’s huge value in trying new things. Especially if your current suite of strategies is not working terribly well. My central question I ask writers if they cling on to some particular way of working is: and how’s that working for you? Because if they go: fantastic. I’m writing a lot and I enjoy it. There’s nothing I can say. They should continue.
But if not. You have to ask: why are you fighting for the right to hold onto strategies that don’t work? I’m not guaranteeing the alternatives will. But just the effort of mixing up your routine. Finding yourself in new spaces, applying new behaviours must perforce return new data. You learn new things. And that updates your mental models, challenges your assumptions. And from there, changes happens. Almost inevitably.
Today, however, I’m asking you to write the same list as Day 2. ‘Things I love’. Only now, the ‘I’ is not you. The I is someone else. Someone invented.
Don’t think too hard about who they are in advance. One concept I’d like to encourage you to start dabbling in is the process of ‘uncovering’ a character rather than pre-emptively creating one. Not planning a character top-down like you were filling in a form at the post office – although that’s a perfectly valid technique sometimes – but discovering them bottom-up. Fragment by fragment.
You’re a bit like someone feeling their way through a cave in the dark, or maybe a more accurate analogy is someone visiting a statue gallery blindfolded. Just reaching out and gripping hold of… ooh, here’s a nose, here’s an elbow, some sort of marbled flank, here’s a, yikes, I dread to think what that is… and slowly, slowly, you start to build up a larger sense of who this person is.
So you might start this list of things they love, of things that make them happy with ‘Watching the water split at the prow of my yacht’ or ‘The smell of cinnamon from the bakery on my walk to school’ or ‘When Mama is kind to me’ or ‘Axes’. They can be big things, small things, concrete things, abstract concepts. Specific is usually better, but feel free to mix the general and the particular. We don’t always talk in specifics, and sometimes a broad answer like ‘Tuesdays’ is a good story hook.
They might name some characters or specific places in their list. You might quickly figure out from the first few items that they exist in place or time different to our own. Or that they’re sad. Or in danger. You might even start to ask yourself: why are they writing this list? Are they the kind of person who would write a list like this? Are they doing it reluctantly? Or is this the kind of thing they’d never ever in a million years do in real life?
But to be clear, none of those are questions you need to answer before you begin. Rather, I’m trying to suggest some gentle enquiries you can make of the work once it’s in progress. As a writer, and I know sometimes this comes off as precious or hokey or whatever, but part of your job, part of what’s fun and works best is to simply be attentive to the emergent reality that happens when you temporarily let go of your mental inhibitions and write. When you give yourself permission to explore the interesting effects of making deliberate mistakes.
Ok, so, a list of things that make an imaginary someone happy. No need to think about it too much. Let’s find out what turns up. Ten minutes, then you’ll hear a little gong. Ready?
And that’s it. That’s your lot. What turned up? Anything? Anyone? Any lines that surprised you? Did it go where you expected?
And you might like to reflect on how you felt as you were writing it. Improvising. Following an intuitive sense. Did you let yourself do that? Did the whole thing feel completely dead to you, like you were following my instructions but nothing was happening? Or did something weird pop up?
I should say, for a variety of reasons, at least some of these exercises will very probably die on their arses when you try them. It happens sometimes, and it’s never the same exercise for everyone, different people just shart their creative bloomers at different stages, and if and when that happens, it’s a great opportunity for you to notice what was going on for you at that point, what you were telling yourself, and maybe practise one of the most useful skills of all in creative writing – and life – which is the capacity to say ‘oh well’, attribute it to temporary factors and move on.
This course is going to give you multiple bites of the cherry. And really a cherry only takes one bite to eat. So be glad for the times you miss. Otherwise, you’d… have a mouthful of cherrystones or something. Anyway. That’s me running out of steam for the day. See you here tomorrow for day 5.