Shonda Rhimes already had two successful shows on TV, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, when Judy Smith, the inspiration for Olivia Pope, did a 10-minute pitch to her about a show called Scandal. In those 10 minutes, Shonda could automatically see what 100 episodes would look like.
I’ll have what Shonda’s having, please. But while I’m figuring out her secret, I force myself to write faster twice a year. In April I do the 30 poems in 30 days challenge for National Poetry Month (I also offer an online challenge giving participants 30 prompts in 30 days – it’s a busy month!) and in November I participate in NaNoWriMo, a free write-a-book-in-a-month contest. I wrote the first draft for my book The Shadow of A Dog I Can’t Forget during a poetry challenge and finished a first draft of my second book Squinting Over Water during a NaNo challenge. I completed a first draft of my third book Little Earthquakes–Fast Lit To Go in the recent Nano contest.
Here’s the plan I follow. Hopefully it makes you a faster writer too:
BE A LITTLE UNDONE: By that I mean, jump up and down, have a little tantrum as you summon up all the imagination and grit you’ve got in you. Kick expectation and fear to the curb. You want first draft material here, not final-final brilliance. That comes later. Who is your favorite superhero? Mine right now is Jessica Jones played by actress Krysten Ritter. She’s so very flawed and so are we during this fast writing phase. Flawed characters make for great storytelling. Be BAD.
MASTER CLASS THINKING: There’s a mindset of successful people. They stay fit in body and mind, they fully believe in what they’re doing and they never give up. Like them, you can train your brain to create in 15 minute intervals. Each night, an hour or two before you fall asleep, write down what you want to accomplish in a story the next day. I brainstorm the perfect conflict for my character, the highlights of scenes I want to write. I try to determine how he or she loves ‘cuz come on, isn’t that at the core of most good stories? If you’re strapped for time or just not feeling the love, it can be as simple as writing down the last line you wrote from the previous day. I love things that have a double-whammy benefit, so usually midday, I listen to a quick TED Talk (TED.com) and work-out at the same time – running in place, doing jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, squats, lunges and a 60-second plank. REPEAT. I always feel more motivated sitting back down to write after this ritual. I also run a fast mile every day to get me pumped for the day’s writing. Okay, some days, it’s just a few times back and forth in the driveway with the dogs!
REFUSING TO GET STUCK: I follow the good advice of an L.A. screenwriter who suggested writing down the words AND THEN and keep going with the story. If I’m still stuck, I ask myself: What are my story’s interesting events? Do my character’s meet randomly or is there an interconnectedness nobody saw coming? Does the story have any secret tragedies, any crash and burn moments? I try to be patient, reminding myself often of why I write –for me it’s to find out what every story is about.
WHAT TO DO WITH GREAT IDEAS THAT AREN’T FITTING INTO YOUR STORY: Nothing is ever lost on a writer. We’re all little spies. We find good ideas everywhere, sometimes we just don’t know where to put them. During these manic fast writing months, I keep a fragment file. Holiday Crisp, a character in a Little Earthquakes story, came to me from a discarded apple crate I nearly tripped over in a Whole Foods parking lot! A good resource book I found is Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan. If I find myself using too many he said/she saids, I open up Bryn’s book where she’s got lists of everything we need to create a great story broken down into sections:Descriptions (Gestures, body language, emotional descriptions, evocative images); Settings – (Sounds, scents, 100 interesting settings for scenes); Plotting; Action – (Words for action scenes, sex scenes, that show attraction, etc.); Dialogue; Character Names; and Character Traits. I never use an exact idea Bryn suggests but just reading through some of her lists gets me back on track with my story.
READ GOOD WRITING: Before the contests start I get out books by my favorite writers. Every day I type up a favorite paragraph or two. I really believe there’s a rhythm to good writing. This little exercise helps with that.
Here’s my quick take on what fast writing is to me:
F= Feel your character’s mood & emotions. What does your character want? What obstacles are in the way? Get that all out on the page.
A= Accountability. Nothing keeps me writing faster than deadlines like NaNo.
S = Scenes, surprises, side trips & set backs, your story needs all of this.
T = Try to thread what matters most to your narrator throughout the story. Like the hem on a dress, you can’t see it, but it does an important job.
The trick to all of this of course is keeping the momentum going once the challenge ends. I’m always setting goals for myself using writing contests as deadlines to finish stories. I also study the work of creatives I admire, trying in my small way to somehow be as good. And then there’s that fast mile (almost!) daily!!! Always remember, if this was easy, anyone could do it!!!
WRITE…WRITE…WRITE…READ…READ…READ and KEEP MOVING!
Be on the look-out for my third book Little Earthquakes – Fast Lit to Go. Here’s where to find me – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Instagram: wordactress/Mary Kennedy Eastham