So having completed “The Plum,” I’ve been trying to generate some material so that I can start a new piece and keep on target for eight short stories by the end of March. I wanted to spend the first couple of weeks in October doing the generating part and spend the final two weeks hopefully hammering out a whole story. I’m now reconsidering this approach, but more on that later.
I have been using a couple of different methods to try to keep myself writing and coming up with interesting thoughts and ideas, even if most of them will probably never see the light of day. The first method is by using some of the writing exercises in a book I got from the library called “Write for Life” by Nicki Jackowska. I had never heard of it before but my library has a pretty limited selection when it comes to creative writing guides so I decided to give it a try. It’s split up into four sections and each section consists of several short chapters which each end with some writing exercises. The focus of the chapters is more theoretical and psychology-focussed than other books of this type that I’ve come across which tend to be more practical, but that is balanced out by the writing exercises. Jackowska suggests working through the exercises as you go along by reading each chapter and then selecting one exercise to work on for that day. At the end of a fixed period of say, a week, you can then look back over what you have done so far and use the following week for development.
Sometimes I have come to the end of a chapter and found that none of the writing exercises are appealing to me, in which case I just continue on to the next chapter. They are so short that this doesn’t require any great time commitment so I can just keep going until I get to a chapter that includes an exercise I like the sound of. I will post the results of some of these exercises in future but one of them immediately intrigued me: “Collect a number of verbal scraps on the page. Don’t try to link them. Put them there and let them make their own connection. (Patchwork, collage.)” I didn’t spend too long on this one but my results looked like this:
I found that the non-linear writing helped to free up my mental associations and it was really interesting how some of the images from this exercise manifested themselves in the short scene I wrote straight afterwards.
The second method I have used to generate some potential story ideas is an excellent resource I came across at www.hiddenea.com, where a local man has archived every legend and tale from the East Anglia area (where I’m from and where I’m currently living) that he could possibly find. I love this area because it is so rich with local legend and I am very fortunate to be living on the doorstep of the spots where some of these extraordinary tales have their origins. I have not even scratched the surface of all that this website has to offer but I am (and certainly others are) sure to find some inspiration here. I will share one of my favourites so far from Runwell in Essex:
A correspondent to ‘Notes and Queries’ in 1857 says that he got the following story from “the Common-Place Book of an old clergyman, written some years ago”, and called it ‘The Devil and Runwell Man’:
“The Devil wished the builder to build the church in a particular place; but the builder would not consent and continued to erect it in another. The Devil and he fought a pitched battle on the occasion; and the man beat him. The Devil asked by what assistance he had vanquished him? He answered, ‘Through God and two spayed bitches.’ A second battle ensued soon after with the same success and interrogatories and answers. They afterwards fought a third battle, in which the man was again successful. On the Devil asking him who were the combatants, he answered,’ Himself and God.’ The Devil finding he could not vanquish the man living, said he would have him at all events, when dead, whether buried in the church he was building or out of it. To elude this he ordered himself to be buried half in the church and half out of it. His coffin, or rather the cup of it, is to be seen of exceeding hard black stone.”
So yesterday I successfully mapped out a rough outline for a new piece and as I mentioned earlier I was planning on spending the next two weeks writing out as much of it as I can. However, the thought is now encroaching on me that perhaps I ought to spend the rest of October planning a few new pieces and then in November jump on board the NaNoWriMo gravy train to write them all out. I know that I wouldn’t make 50,000 words because I am due to be away a lot in November (read: because I am a very slow and lazy writer), but I would set myself a more realistic target and if I achieved it I would be well on my way to meeting my goal for March.
What do you guys think? Have you tried NaNoWriMo before? I never have. What have your experiences been? How do you go about generating material for a new piece? How do you filter out what you can use and what you can’t? Have you got any favourite writing exercises or books you’ve liked? I’d love to know!
In other news–I got a job! It’s three days a week with a forty minute commute on the train which gives me a good amount of writing time, too.
Thanks for reading!