We convince ourselves that we are bettering our craft. Practice makes perfect, right? Although practice does indeed lead to something like perfection there comes a point when you have to pull off your warm-up gear and step out onto the pitch (sorry, soccer reference, for the many Americans in the group, that’s what the Brits call a soccer field).
Now, let me point out that I do indeed realize that different people write for different reasons. Some write just to be heard, others write for the joy of it, fanfic folk frequently flock to their forums (I sooooo could not miss out on that alliteration) because they want to continue journeys, whereas I, and I’m guessing most of you have this same motivation, want to see my name in print, to share my thoughts and words with as many people as possible. I want to bring about some form of change in the reader, in the world. Many of these snarky rants are directed at those who think as I do, so if that’s not you I suggest you stop reading this because I’m probably going to offend you.
Consider yourself warned.
Of course, there are different kinds of prompts. For instance, when they come from me, they are obviously of great literary value . . . . Anyone buying that? Alright, seriously, when I propose a writing prompt I am more or less offering up a different way of looking at something. I’m usually trying to understand my characters better, often in a piece that I may have stalled out on. I don’t necessarily intend for them to be done, I just want you to look at something of your own in a different way. The trouble with many writing prompts is that they have nothing to do with your current work in progress (WIP).
Let’s look at some from “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves. (I tend to read these in an airy voice that floats on wisps of marijuana smoke, incents and the romantic memories of flower covered hills in springtime)
- January 1: Write about Sunday afternoon.
- February 15: Write about a brief encounter.
- April 9: You’re asleep. You’re not at home.
- May 24: Write about something you see every day.
I’ll stop there. What in the world do those prompts have to do with our goal of getting published? They’re just an excuse to write. But those are just the prompts, right? The rest of the book must be filled with great information on “how” to write, riiiiight? Not so far as I can tell. The entire book seems dedicated to this fluffy bunny crap.
“What’s the big deal, David? Like you said, it’s just practice.”
No, it’s a distraction. In fact, it is an entire year of your life dedicated to distraction if you follow this book. Add it up, the time spent checking the forum or reading Judy’s musings before you start your prompt, add the writing of the prompt itself, and then, more than likely, if you submit it somewhere for others to read, you’ll go back and edit it before you post. How much of your WIP could you have finished in that time? How much could have been edited? How many markets could have been researched?
It’s an excuse to avoid your WIP. It’s “I’ll get started on my story just as soon as I finish this writing prompt.” And then the next day, it’s the same thing. We only have so much time in a day. If we spend our best hours cranking out pieces on what we did on Sunday, or how we felt when we slept someplace that wasn’t home, our real writing, that world changing stuff that we want to get done, doesn’t get done. Or worst, it’s weakened because we’ve already used so many good words on describing something we see everyday.
I mean, seriously, how many collections of writing prompts do your favorite authors put out? Have you ever heard of any of them actually using them? The Writing Excuses guys offer them every week, and they’re often nonsensical. I’d venture to guess that they don’t take them seriously because they don’t expect us to take them seriously. Real writers put out collections of short stories, not collections of “What I did on Sunday” (unless it’s a collection of Tuesdays with a guy named Morrie but of course not even that is a collection of Tuesdays).
The point here is, real writers write. If you went into work every day and told your boss that before you could actually start working you had to practice working first, he’d fire your ass. More than likely, when you got that job, you didn’t know what you were doing. Most of us go through “on the job training” because we learn best by doing. So spend your practice time actually doing as opposed to practicing it. Or as one of my professors once put it, “Those who talk about doing, often don’t. Those who do, simply do.”
Now then, your writing prompt for today is: Write a story in which a character finds the meaning of life through a series of writing prompts.