Yes, I’ve read the writing advice that tells us to make a writing appointment each day and just do it, get your butt in the chair and WRITE! All I can say is, “Get real!” That advice was written by professional writers whose main job is writing and writing-related activities. The rest of us need to fit writing activities into our daily routine, at least until we make it big and writing is our job.
Before someone goes all huffy on me, let me explain that the professional writing advice is well-intentioned, sage and meaningful. We need to practice writing, editing, and the myriad skills that go into crafting a story. There are no secret passages or magic carpets that will shorten our journey. My point is that we don’t have to perfect all these things at the same time. When we are time-challenged, we can break our writing activities into manageable bits that don’t require large time commitments. Sure, it takes longer to get to our final goal, but practicing when we can allows us to write more effectively when we have larger blocks of time.
Let’s explore how this might work. Let’s say we’re waiting for our turn in the dental chair. We can pull out our pad and write a short meaningful conversation, a description, or a character’s inner thoughts. Put the pad away and edit it during the next small window. Once we have the vignette polished, we give it a meaningful name (e.g., “Mother and Active Child in the Dentist’s Office” or “Smells from the Dentist’s Office”) and share it with our readers. Can they relate to the description? Is it meaningful?
At this point, you might be asking, “How does this get my novel written?” To address this question, I’m going to refer to advice given to aspiring photographers by the photography greats. Like writing, photography has technical (f/stop, shutter speed, depth of field) and artistic components that must come together to create an outstanding image. Professional photographers tell us to practice with our camera until we don’t have to think about the technical aspects. When we automatically know how to isolate two people from a busy background, we can concentrate on the artistry of two lovers meeting in a park. Pros rarely look at the back of the camera to see if they have the technical aspects dialed in. Well, they may do one quick check, but after that their eye is glued to the viewfinder, working the artistic side of the equation.
Writing descriptions, conversations, and scenes are akin to learning the camera. Once we know how to do these things effectively, we can concentrate on the story and its artistry. Besides, our collection of polished vignettes can be re-purposed in future works or they may become story inspirations.
I’ve included a few supplemental writing prompts to get us started.
Descriptions That Introduce a Character
Saying without saying - Describe someone who is ______ without saying the word(s).
- Romantically interested in someone
- Obsessive and controlling
- 40-60 years old
- Unliked by your POV character
- Convinced they are unjustly accused
- Repentant for a recent deed
- Noticed for their attractiveness rather than their ability
- Habitually unnoticed by others
- Mourning the death of a spouse/child/dog/gerbil
- Emotionally absent
- A jock
Physical Descriptions – Describe someone focusing on:
- A distracting mannerism
- How they smell (breath, body, hair, etc.)
- Their eating habits
- Their shoes
- The clothes they are wearing
- Facial hair
- Voice and/or speaking style
- One body part (hands, face, eyes, feet, fingers, arms, etc.)
- The tech they have/display (phone, tablet, watch, glasses, Bluetooth, etc.)
- How they resemble their pet
- Glass/prosthetic/cybernetically-enhanced eye
- Characteristic facial expression
Positive and Negative – Describe a scene positively and negatively
- Urban street scene
- Punk with blue Mohawk, leather, piercing/branding, in the front row of a small town church.
- The POV character opening the front door of their house.
- Policeman talking with a teenager
- Rocket launch
- Four men with hard hats staring into a hole in front of a house
- A line of people waiting to buy a movie ticket
- Coffee shop at 8 PM
- Produce/meat/deli section of a grocery store
- Airport waiting area on Christmas eve
- Family driving to the in-law’s house for dinner
- A horse farm next to a subdivision/apartment complex
- The bus stop in the morning
The bottom line here is twofold; (1) we don’t have to abandon our writing aspirations when we don’t have large blocks of time and (2) moving forward in small steps is better than not moving at all.
Well folks, what do you think? Do you have time management techniques you’d like to share with busy writers? Do you have some intriguing prompts that might make the exercise more interesting?
I’d love to hear from you.