I love New Year’s Resolutions. I tend to make a lot of them. But there’s one resolution I make year after year:
The resolution to write.
Then again, it isn’t really one resolution. Some years my resolutions are about word count. Sometimes they’re about establishing routines, carving out time–my “writer’s life,” if you will. There are dozens of ways to resolve to write, and that resolution can be regularly renewed or revamped. I’d say there are so many ways to resolve to write, that the blanket statement isn’t enough: we need to focus on a more specific, more concrete goal.
Since I’ve been resolving to write for so long, I thought I’d share some of my more specific resolutions. You’ll notice that they all come with a common theme: Don’t expect too much of yourself. I don’t want you to underestimate yourself, either, but it’s better to set yourself up for success than for failure.
Last night, I was watching A Christmas Story with my kids when bedtime hit. Right as I had to turn off the TV to start the bedtime routine, the narrator (adult Ralphie) uttered one of my favorite lines: “From then on, things were different between me and my mother.”
At first, I thought this would be a great opening line–for an exercise, perhaps, but not for an actual story. So I thought, perhaps I could use it as a last line–sort of like reverse engineering. I’ve heard of writers thinking this way (the one that comes to mind is Gilmore Girls and the six words Amy Sherman-Palladino swore would finish the series–six words she didn’t get to write until the follow-up episodes a few years ago) and while it might not be the very best way to work, it’s something I hadn’t tried.
Read my attempt below (there is sooo much more work to be done!) and share yours in the comments!
Do you ever get words stuck in your head? I’ve heard it’s a symptom of OCD (though if you look up a full list of OCD symptoms you’ll probably un-diagnose yourself). There was a time in my life when these words plagued me. I’d read the name of a chemical on a shampoo bottle in the morning and it would play over and over and over and over, whenever my mind was quiet.
This morning, for no reason at all, I thought of the word “flamingo.” Flamingo, flamingo, flamingo. And just as it was starting to get annoying I though, “Maybe I could use this.”
So the challenge this week is to write something using a repetitive word. I know it can work when wielded by the right writer–just read something by Robert Lopez and you’ll see what I mean. (Seriously, though, read Robert Lopez anyway. He’s amazing.)
When I was a student, November seemed like a great month to commit to writing. It was generally a quiet month. The school year was well underway and my routines set. The Thanksgiving break meant extra hours at my computer while someone else baked and basted.
One of the most popular writing prompts I’ve posted here on The Sensitive, Bookish Type is also my favorite: The Opening Line. Today, we’re doing basically the same thing but instead of working with a novel’s first line, we’re working with the novel’s last line.
At random, I reached onto my shelf and grabbed Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. This will be interesting for me because I haven’t actually read it yet–excepting, of course, the back cover. But that doesn’t matter because I’m not trying to extend the story itself. I’m simply borrowing its last line.
Arms about each other’s shoulders, the Babbitt men marched into the living-room and faced the swooping family.
Now, without planning ahead, I’ve come across a perfect example of the theory upon which this exercise is based: the end of a novel should always read somewhat like a beginning. Unless everyone dies at the end (which would be a very poor ending, in my opinion–not even Shakespeare had EVERYONE die) the end of one story is always the beginning of another. So now I shall use this last line to start a paragraph of my own. In this case, I’m going to replace the last name with the name of a family in the novel on which I’m currently writing. My exercise, below, might not be the beginning of a story, but certainly the beginning of a chapter.
Do you ever follow Hemingway’s famous advice, “Write drunk, edit sober?”
I’ve never had great luck writing drunk. Alcohol used to make me write these crazy, horrible poems–the kind of stuff you might’ve written in seventh grade–and then email them to an old friend who found them highly amusing.
Only once have I written anything under the influence that I later considered worth editing: a section of a story in which the character had been drinking. It was like method acting. The character had some hilariously twisted thoughts that I don’t know if I could have written sober. Interesting thoughts. Uninhibited thoughts, I suppose.
So maybe it’s worth a try, huh? Let me know if you like it.
This is an exercise for those of you who are currently working on a project and might be stuck on plot or character development. I want you to take a character you’ve been with for a while and have them stop, mid-scene, and look at the horizon. It might sound cheesy, and it probably won’t end up staying in your finished work, but what does the horizon evoke for them? Where are they going?
I think all grown-ups have at least one thing that triggers their inner brat: the voice inside your head that says, “I don’t wanna! You can’t make me! Waaaaaahhhh!.” I’ve got several, actually, but one of my very worst:
See, I had to go to the dentist this morning, and I also had to take my kids to their dentist. And my dentist wants me to buy a very expensive mouth guard that my insurance doesn’t cover, and his argument is cogent but my inner brat is just furious. Of course, even normal things at the dentist’s office get her riled up:
Hygienist: How often are you flossing?
Inner Brat: Yeah like teeth are so important. I’m going to floss even less now just because you brought it up so nyanyananyanyah. And I’m totally having hot coffee and gummi bears right after you paint on that fluoride stuff, maybe a big bowl of super crunchy chips, just to spite you.
Thankfully, there’s a grown-up person encasing that inner brat but still. The thoughts are there.
Anyhow, while lying back in the dentist’s chair, I realized that I hadn’t posted a writing prompt yet this morning, and that this little, snotty voice inside me would make an excellent narrator. Perhaps a conversation between the rational adult and the inner brat.