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If you like to write (or like the idea of writing but hate the difficulty of it), I have an exercise for you to try. I used it to create this article.

Many of us have had those glorious days where the words are flowing to your fingertips faster than you can type. It’s effortless. It’s a wondrous feeling that re-establishes your faith in your abilities and confirms that The Great American Novel is just a few sessions like this from being completed.

bang headUpon returning  to the computer, the black reality sets in. There’s nothing. No inspiration at all. In fact, there are days where I’ve been certain that banging my head against the keyboard would produce better prose than the barely-coordinated tapping of my fingers.

 

 

This is where my exercise comes in. Trust me, it works.

  1. Sit down at your keyboard with no topic in mind. Be sure you are uninspired. Be prepared to accept whatever lands upon the page with the understanding that another person never need see it.
  2. Type. And I’m talking stream-of-consciousness stuff here. I have literally typed “I am typing away because I have nothing to write about and I’m praying it will continue long enough that I will feel I have accomplished something.”
  3. Don’t think. Seriously. Take the words as they come. To start, your brain will be a few words ahead of your fingers. When you get into the rhythm, your thoughts will be a few sentences ahead (or further, if you really get into it!).
  4. Don’t edit for content. And don’t edit for typos (except for the ones that will keep you awake at night. See Word Murder for examples).

This might be the hardest writing you’ve ever done. It might also be the easiest. You’ve been released from your creative bonds. Your thoughts can be disorganized and follow any path you come upon.

road-not-taken-800x402As I mentioned above, what you’re reading is the result of that exercise. I sat down with no concept of what I would write. And now, I’ve delivered more than 400 words in less than 30 minutes.

I’ve been in this place before. Hundreds of times. You probably have, too. The desire to write is there, but it’s a chore because the inspiration isn’t. I know from experience that this method works. At best, I’ve delivered something salvageable I can edit (this article being a case in point). At worst, I’ve spent time exercising the writing muscles in my brain, which will make the next session easier.

Sit down at your keyboard today and have no plan other than to simply start typing. You might just surprise yourself.

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Some people have a musical soundtrack that plays through their minds as they walk or run. I have this, too, but more often than not, I have narration. My head is filled with the story of what could happen to someone in my situation. This morning, it was a rainy walk to work.

The first sentence is the exact first thing that came into my head as I stepped onto the sidewalk. The rest followed me as I went.

*     *     *     *     *

He walked unconcernedly through the rain. The quiet drizzle was a nice respite from the thunderous show of the night before. His umbrella echoed with rhythmic pit-pats as his shoes splashed through puddled evidence of the storm. All-in-all, he told himself, it was a nice change from his usual morning walk to work. A little change to an otherwise monotonous journey he had made hundreds of times in the last five years. People ran past with jackets over their heads or briefcases held high, but their efforts to stay dry were in vain. He allowed himself a smile, though it still took an effort to bring it to his lips.

It took a few moments for him to realize – at least, that’s what he would tell himself later when he tried to recall the exact series of events – that the sound of the rain against his umbrella had gone. His feet still splashed in puddles, but it seemed the rain had stopped. He lowered his umbrella, looking around, but still saw others trying to protect themselves against the wet. He stopped, thinking that he must be in some pocket of quiet, the eye of the storm where all was peaceful.

A sudden gale nearly blasted him off his feet, buffeting him and drenching his clothes. He had a momentary glimpse of his tattered umbrella before it disappeared into the gray of the sudden deluge. Then as suddenly as it had hit, it ceased. Again he was in the quiet in the midst of the storm. But it was different this time.

The rain still fell, but it no longer touched him.

*     *     *     *     *

I have no idea where this goes. And it doesn’t matter. It’s more fun than way.

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This is just me, writing as far as I can after starting with nothing. No ideas, save for what popped into my head right before I sat down. No plan. The only goal is to write until the baloney runs out.

*     *     *     *     *

Rosalyn Flaherty’s paternal grandparents were both Irish. As in, straight from Ireland. They’d immigrated to America after World War II to start a better life for their children. Rosalyn’s father Peter was the their fourth child and first American-born. He always joked about being raised in a world of green. Rosalyn suspected this wasn’t an exaggeration.

Her grandparents never let her forget her heritage, and their tutelage ranged from the history of some obscure traditional dish at supper to celebrating some forgotten holiday, the names of which usually sounded like they were clearing their throats as they taught her the proper pronunciation.

Rosalyn hated it. She hated the history. She hated the culture. She hated her ancestry. If she’d put her teenage brain to it, she’d have realized it all stemmed from her own self image. At the heart of it, she hated her milky skin and the explosion of red curls atop her head, to which she credited her fiery temper, not her contrary nature. She took it all out on everything Irish.

In the predominantly German and Scandinavian area where they lived, the red-headed Flahertys stood out amongst their brunette and tow-headed neighbors. Amongst her peers, Rosalyn felt like a glowing image of color in a black-and-white photograph. Many girls her age expressed their love of her hair, which she took as sarcasm, rather than jealousy. They, and many of their mothers, raved about her flawless porcelain skin. Rosalyn was never gracious about any of the compliments directed her way and her temper often flared up in response. She tried to forestall their praise by keeping her hair short and by concealing herself with long-sleeved shirts and pants, which turned her mother into a clucking chicken who was always picking at one thing or another about her appearance.

Rosalyn drew inwards as she grew older, and lived as solitary a life as a teenager could. Aside from the crowds of her high school and the seeming zoo of her parents’ house, she tried to be alone as much as possible. It relaxed her rigid posture. It cooled her temper. It allowed her to roll up her sleeves and let out the sometimes unbearable heat. Rosalyn’s  higher-than-average body temperature was unfortunate for a person who preferred clothing with full coverage. Her mother had often commented that it was Rosalyn’s anger boiling to the surface, which was a better explanation than the doctor’s diagnosis that some people just had warmer blood. At one hundred degrees, Rosalyn had much warmer blood.

Summer was approaching, bringing an end to the school year, and temperatures had been steadily rising for a month. If she had allowed it, Rosalyn would have been regretting her turtleneck today. But she suffered through it with a dignity borne of will. Without conscious thought, she found herself on a secluded path that led from her school to a nearby woods. The path was rarely used, so Rosalyn often had a quiet walk of no interruption. In addition to the seclusion, the shade afforded some relief on hotter days.

But it didn’t seem to provide any comfort this afternoon. In fact, Rosalyn’s distracted thoughts were soon consumed by her discomfort. The turtleneck seemed to be constricting her and generating a heat of its own. She stopped walking, assuming she had been moving too quickly and was overheating. She looked around, seeking deeper shade in which she could rest. The asphalt path ahead of her shimmered in the afternoon heat, but so did the trees around her. As did the grass and the sky. Rosalyn stumbled, feeling light-headed. Bringing her hands up to wipe away the sweat on her face, she saw a blush upon her white flesh. The blush darkened, assuming the rich color of too many hours in the sun.

Then Rosalyn burst into flames.

*     *     *     *     *

This came to me to me as I walked in to work this morning from my car. My path leads along the edge of wooded park, the border of which is a berm that is topped with tree. Its slope is covered in a short thick growth that radiates heat in the summer.

The thought of someone bursting into flame and adopting the identity of “Flare” led to Rosalyn’s last name “Flaherty”. The red hair and first name developed to follow the fire theme of the story.

The Irish angst seemed to come from nowhere, except as a device on which she could focus her misplaced teenage anger.

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Wisps of cloud diluted the perfect blue of the morning sky, reducing its rich color to a softer hue. Young leaves, bright with life, glowed in the light of the rising sun. Dancing green lights they seemed, as a warm breeze awoke them from slumber. Beyond the sentinel mountain that overshadowed this valley, the sun brought the promise of a perfect day, its yellow rays coaxing vivid summer colors out of all things that fell beneath its gaze.

A tentative hand reached into the branches of a tree and plucked free a large red fruit, its rind as rich and dark as blood. Not an apple was this, he knew. It was too early in the season. The fruit’s sudden appearance had surprised him, considering this was a tree long thought barren. Compulsion, not conscious thought, brought the fruit to his lips, where the sharp white peaks of his teeth pierced the rind. The fruit nearly burst from the wound, and dark juices ran down the man’s chin as he chewed.

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A few characters are being fleshed out in my mind, but the difficulty is not falling into the beloved clichés of the Western genre. There will be no white hats, no hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold characters, and no mustachioed bad guys.

The hero himself is a bit of a villain, but not the villain. I haven’t determined his Civil War loyalties, though I know he found himself on the wrong side with both factions.

There will be a love interest–probably more than one. I do not consider him a ladies’ man, however. He’s a huricane that just happens to make landfall sometimes.

Oh, and no tumbleweeds.

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I started working on a new story last night during the Oscars. It’s in my head right now, but will soon solidify into actual words on a page. I can always tell when it’s a story I’m going to write down because it sticks in my head–it doesn’t fade like an unimportant daily encounter. It was there when I woke up today and as I showered. I dwelled on it as I drove to work. I’ve been thinking about it at my desk today, too.

The working title, That Damned Dusty Man, popped into my head last night as I again thought about how few Westerns are made anymore. I don’t have a character name yet, aside from his description in the title. But I have some background already. I know how his life ends and the story starts with that.

Most of my writing so far has centered around horror, fantasy, or children’s, though I’ve scrawled out some notes over the years with ideas for Western plot points. We’ll see where it goes from here.

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Write that down now!

Writers: A quick plea to remember to capture those amazing ideas immediately as they come to you lest they disappear with nary a trace. Often this has happened to me and I have worn my boot soles thin from kicking myself.

I often like to let an idea run around in my head for a bit as I try to form it into something more tangible. If I can keep thinking about it as the day goes on, it starts to develop and grow. Suddenly, a day or a week later, I find myself typing away, turning thought into word and idea into story.

But that idea is very much like a cloud riding the wind at the head of a storm, and if I turn my focus away, sometimes for even a moment, those skyborne wisps will be something else by the time I look back, leaving nothing but gray thunderheads in their wake. The storm arrives days later when my mind gives me a little poke and says, “Hey, you had a great idea last Wednesday, but it’s soooo gone now. Just thought you’d like to know.”

So, stop whatever you are doing because the brilliance* that is

“The creature kept coming, inexorably, despite its ruined leg. It dragged the damaged limb along, giving no heed to the pain inflicted by my axe. Vengeance burned from its eyes, striking me like a physical blow and holding me fast. The look I read on its face told me the creature meant to take more than my leg as recompense. And it needed no axe to collect.”

will be reduced to “The angry creature stomped toward me” when you try to write it down later.

And this is why, having just written another article, I am now, at four in the morning, starting a second one.

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 *Brilliance in this example means that after rewriting my example a dozen times at 4am, I gave up, knowing that it didn’t necessarily need to be truly brilliant for the purpose of this writing.

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