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Give yourself permission to play on the page

Sometimes, I take the title of “writer” too seriously. I worry and fret about my stories and characters. I stress out that every choice I make is the wrong one. When I get in this mode, I forget the joy of writing. I forget why I write in the first place. Writing, I’ve discovered, is not for the faint of heart. This is why I’m so excited as I read author Alan Watt’s book, The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the story within.

Instead of promoting a stiff set of rules for finishing your first draft in 90 days, Watt encourages writers to spend a good amount of time loosely playing on the page. He has a list of prompts or questions to write about from the protagonist’s and/or antagonist’s point of view. He suggests setting a timer for five minutes per prompt and just writing down what comes, not worrying about whether or not you’re going to use it.

“We are just allowing out mind to wander around the world of our story and writing down whatever emerges….We are not answering them, but rather allowing our imaginations to inquire. We want to approach these questions with a spirit of curiosity. Let’s allow ourselves to have fun, to take risks, to make wild choices, and always, to hold it all loosely. We are after a sense of aliveness and surprise.”

I love this advice so much I made a little game out of it the other day at the gym. I do a circuit workout a few days a week that includes 5 to 7 minutes on varying cardio machines and then a quick weight training exercise in between. I brought Watt’s list of questions and a small notebook with me and during each short cardio section, I played on the page with a new prompt. I came up with some really interesting ideas—ideas I don’t think I would have had if I’d just been sitting at my computer, grinding away, trying to meet my word count. (The bonus was that my workout flew by!)

Watt’s book reminds me not to take myself too seriously and that the moment I force my writing or fear that I’m getting it wrong, is the moment I’m no longer in my story.

Exercise: Set your timer for five minutes and have your protagonist answer this question from Watt’s book: The secret I won’t tell anyone is…. Next, set your timer for another five minutes and answer this question: The secret I won’t tell myself is…. To create a more complex world and story, check out Watt’s other questions and see what treasures they bring you.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Greetings Carol: I stumbled in here through a Twitter post and wanted to let you know how much I like your blog, especially this post. I love the 5 minute prompts!

    I’m doing something similar now, taking a break from writing another book, and working on short stories. I gave myself an assignment to write 20 shorts in 20 days. In no way are they ‘written’ but every morning I have to come with an idea to develop. It’s very challenging, but fun.

    NaNoWriMo helped free me up too, but these 5 minute prompts look like great daily warm up exercise.

    Nice to meet you.

    ~rahma krambo
    Author | Guardian Cats & the Lost Books of Alexandria

    November 26, 2011
    • Nice to meet you Rahma. I love your idea–20 shorts in 20 days! I like to give myself exercises and prompts to keep myself writing. Otherwise, I can get sidetracked. I’m working on a fun project now: writing poems about characters or ideas in my book I want to develop. Will do a blog post on it soon! Congrats on your book.

      November 26, 2011

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