The kind of exercises my teacher used in class required us to write something, anything, based on a word, phrase, or idea that she’d given us. We also wrote short assignments outside of class that focused on specific literary techniques such as the description of the barn from Gardner’s book, scenes from different points of view, changing tones, all sorts of snippets that I thought I could expand into stories.
Having an endless amount of time outside of class to do the exercises didn’t seem to oil my creative hinges as well as having to write quickly in class. When I first wrote this section, I didn’t have any idea why that was true. Now, I tell my own students that it’s not that easy to turn off your inner editor. Writing quickly within a specific time frame helps.
People in my Fiction Techniques class were lawyers, IT people, Congressional staff, military, and just about any other profession you can think of and everybody had trouble with speed writing. Nobody wanted to read what they had written out-loud either. We’d let our inner child come out to play and we didn’t want anyone to know what the child would do much less what they were like. Once in a while, a student wouldn’t be able to come up with anything at all and the looks on their faces seemed to say, what will they think of me, will they think I have no talent? Or when we had written a page, will they get what I said?
With one piece that I wrote, I could barely get the words out when I was reading because I thought it was so funny but nobody else seemed to half as amused as I was. Humor is a tricky business.
The point was to try and train the child we all had to come out on demand, not just in the middle of the night or once every couple of months. The only other technique that I used to help me learn to write on demand was to write in a journal every day. I had specific books that I used as journals during some semesters but in others I just filled up the notebook I was using for a class with all my thoughts about how I could use what I was learning or ideas that I’d had for stories or books. Having a journal or a notebook that was bound together was a much better way to organize my notes than the scraps of papers I’d been using. Although, when I was someplace without my notebook and I heard a phrase or idea that struck a chord, I still found that a napkin would do.
For years, I’d kept a box of newspaper clippings and my scraps of paper. During school, I found that it was much easier for me to find an idea in a bound book because I could usually remember the time period or class I was taking when I had the idea and associate it with one of my notebooks or journals. Since I’ve become so addicted to jotting notes down on my computer, that’s where I keep track of most of my ideas now. Rather than just writing down a phrase, I usually write the first couple of pages of the story that I have in mind. Learning to “write on demand” made it possible for me to translate those ideas into a few hundred words. I haven’t had much trouble with writer’s block since I started writing every day. There are times when I write complete crap but that’s better than breaking my routine.