We’ll begin where the well has run dry and the urge to write is nowhere in sight. Such moments happen often during the summer, when weeding the garden, chasing down ice cream trucks, and lying in the grass are much more important than writing that scene you can’t quite get right. Your head is full of the summer sun, and you say to yourself, “Well, I’m plum out of inspiration. I’ll wait until tomorrow, when creativity strikes.”
Don’t fall down this hole! (And if you already have, at least you know you have company. I’ve been down here for days.) For some, creativity is a wellspring running constantly through their minds. For others like myself, creativity is more like lightning, and rarely strikes more than twice a month. It is in these moments that you must remind yourself that writing isn’t so much about the motivation, those wondrous moments when the words fly, but the determination to write even when they don’t.
Take the time to write anything. It doesn’t have to be a part of your current piece of work. Recall a dream you had, make up a dream you wish you had, write character sketches of your friends and family, or chronicle the fictional history of the painting hanging in your mother’s boudoir. Because writing is like any art; it takes practice and dedication. Before you draw the masterpiece, you practice sketching the hands; before you perform Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, you practice until each measure is committed to memory; before you write your first novel, you practice writing shorter stories or excerpts to get a handle on character, plot, dialogue, setting, etc. Sit down and make yourself write.
A fantastic way to do this is to use writing prompts. That or open the dictionary, select three random words, and attempt to string those into a short story. (Which gets interesting when your three words are: palaver, spearwort, and kinky.) There are several sites with excellent creative prompts—Writer’s Digest, Poets and Writers, and thewritepractice.com—and I will be posting a prompt on this blog, every Sunday evening, for fifty-two weeks.
Why fifty-two weeks? Because I am taking up the Ray Bradbury Challenge: write a short story to completion every week for a year. According to Bradbury, “it’s not possible to write fifty-two bad stories in a row.” He’s right. Because after that fifty-second story, you will have had lots of practice, and you’re going to have new tools under your writing belt—as well as fifty-two stories to hone or expand upon.
I begin this challenge this week, and I encourage you to commit as well. Frodo couldn’t have destroyed the ring without Sam, and I can’t finish this challenge without you. (Or maybe I can. But the company would be nice all the same. We could be the Fellowship of the Ray Bradbury Challenge … or something along those lines.)
Here is this week’s prompt: “According to the residents of La Unión, a small farming community in rural Honduras, at least once a year the skies rain fish, a phenomenon explained by locals with a variety of scientific, religious, and superstitious theories and legends. Locally regarded as a miracle, the day after a spectacular and torrential storm, the ground is covered with hundreds of small, silver-colored fish. Write a short story that takes place in a setting where a similarly surprising and perhaps inexplicable phenomenon exists year after year. Does your main character fall on the side of science or superstition? Does she respond with skepticism, wonder, or indifference? How does this experience affect her life?”
Let the writing begin!