With my creative writing workshop looming, and having run a session recently, it reminds me that I am not that hot on writing on demand. You know that eerie silence when the leader of the workshop says you have fifteen minutes to write — ready, have an idea and… GO! Sounds of scratching pens burrowing into your soul?
Although, ideas do generally come, even if not good ones and what you write is so first draft you hope you’re not asked to read it out and show yourself for not being able to write at all, you still write something. Right? Of course you can write, it just doesn’t suit everyone writing on demand. I have sat on Arvon courses where people read these pieces that sound so polished I have to wonder if they’re just writing something they already had, bending it to fit the remit? Or they really are literary geniuses — closes notebook and pretends not to have written anything.
Some people do run with the ideas planted at workshops, so I do see their importance. I tend to use them in a workshop to get a feel for what people write (bearing in mind some, like me, don’t produce their best work that way) and it also helps me see what comfort zone they fall into. Yes, I did say comfort zone.
You see, the get set go thing has you writing what you know, there isn’t time for different. So it does show what we define as our comfort zones and prompts questions like — do you always use first person? Do you always use narrators like yourself? Do you always favour past tense? It’s actually quite a good way of seeing the ways we get set in, and suggesting come out of that and writing first person, present tense, child narrator instead of past tense, third person, elderly gentleman, might add new life to your writing. And it also shows us our weaknesses, the key being how to spot them. Writing books are great, but sometimes you don’t see the no nos, the head-hops and the telling in our own work, right?
I have some exercises in mind for my editing workshop that also show how we write, and how we define our viewpoint. And who knows where some of these prompts will lead, but what they really do is help us to look inside our own writing and ask of ourselves why we write like that. Because there lies the key to how to develop and not stay in the same place.
Is a great story one defined by a great idea, or can great writing carry a weak idea?
Now there’s a question and I hope you’ll answer — you need a great idea and great writing, right? But great ideas do not come along that often, so we often have to settle for good ideas and amazing writing. Actually, as I have said here before, often the simplest story arcs and the neatest plot lines (before we get carried away with the embellishments) are often the best and the execution, in terms of how well the writer tells the story (shows the story should I say) is what will bring it to life. We can’t all have WOW ideas, but we can make a story feel wow by how well we tell it.
I am not so sure even the best writing can carry a weak idea too far though.
Take the literary story, where the character drives it, often these will make bad movies because the action might be in one room inside the head of one character, and it might be a simple conflict, making a decision to, say leave a husband? So it terms of plot and story this isn’t going to be up there with some of the plots that wow us, but give it voice, quirk (you know I love quirk) and execute it with skill and finesse and you have something special. These stories win prizes all the time.
Perhaps it’s just as well not all stories need the wow plot or we’d struggle. And anyway, I find just by being in the moment, just by showing up at my desk every day and writing, ideas do sometimes fall from the sky. My lovely little dog learned a long time ago that if she walks in the kitchen while her mum chops vegetables or slices bread, just sometimes, even when we’re not expecting it, good things sometimes fall from the sky.
Have a wonderful day everyone, always a moment away from a miracle…
Ps — still 4 places left on my workshop… so book now! http://www.debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk/Pages/Events.aspx