Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fun With Writing

Not all writers go through a dry spell, but quite a few do. You’re not writing. You can’t even think of what to write about. You’re just not feeling the muse. You begin to think what you need is a partner, someone with whom you can toss around ideas, someone to motivate you to write.

I was writing about this for my weekly Thursday newsletter and thought I’d share with you all how to Double Your Imagination.

For me, it happened by accident. A friend and I are writing a “book.” We didn’t start out to do that and we have no plans to publish the book. It’s just fun.

It started because I saw a buzzard in a tree across the valley behind out house. I tried to take a picture, but don’t have a camera with a zoom lens. I did, though, mention the buzzard in an email to my friend.

He wrote back five lines. This was the first two:
Once upon a time there was a buzzard named Billy. Billy was one year old but he could fly as high as any other buzzard and could gulp down whatever road kill was provided on the local highways.
The last line in that email was:
He tried to bite off a piece but lost his teeth in the hard brittle road kill.
I wrote back:
Billy Buzzard stared down at his dentures lying atop the brittle road kill. With a tear in his eye, he cursed Dr. Beaver, who had insisted he needed all his teeth pulled instead of just a retainer for his overbeak. Now what would he eat? He'd be relegated to soup and oatmeal. He was starving and the roadkill was too tough. He looked to the sky and studied the hot sun. Beaver soup, he decided. That would be satisfying.
And thus began our back-and-forth story, now at 19 single-spaced pages.

To get rid of your dry spell, try doing this with a friend. The key is to use your imagination and hit send when you’ve left your partner with a bit of a cliff hanger.

Other rules you might want to include are:
Try not to self-edit, except for perhaps spelling.
No editing the other person's writing. This is for fun.
If one of you tires of the exercise, quit.
Don't write expecting the book to ever get published

If your partner takes you someplace you had never considered, jump in and go for it, just like Billy Buzzard did when he was looking for dung beetles in the compost.
Have you ever done this kind of writing exercise? Would you?


  1. What a great idea, writing back and forth with a friend. I'm going to try it with my son.


  2. I'm a firm believer with Anne Lamott that anything that gets your hand moving across the page (or keyboard) is good news! I like your story so far and can't wait to find out what happens to Billy.
    Jan Morrison

  3. We've put Billy through some hard times! And even a bit of romance.

  4. Terrific idea and a fun way to get your imagination going again.

    Thoughts in Progress

  5. I participated in something like this with blog post comments once. A blogger started a story and then invited commenters to continue it. In spite of the fact that a few of us crossed over each other, it was good fun!

  6. That must have been fun, Liza!

  7. Ingenues! And I have a friend in mind who always inspires me! Thanks. Great post, Helen! Love Buzzard Billy--and also love Buzzard Billy's restaurant in Waco!
    Sylvia Dickey Smith

  8. Great idea ... I've seen something similar on blogs every now and then. Someone starts with one line, and every commenter adds a line, taking the story in any direction, as it builds with each Commenter's contribution.

  9. Love, Love, Love this! Thank you. Can't stay - gotta start a little somethin' of my own.

  10. One of my blogger buddies posts the start of a story on her blog now and then and we all contribute a few lines. It's fun.

  11. A story and a memory, what more could you ask?

  12. I love it! What a great way to keep the creative juices flowing.

    I make up a story to tell my daughter every night...and sometimes she makes suggestions to the story's direction. And sometimes she takes over the story altogether! It's a fun time and a good way to foster creativity for both of us.

  13. I did something similar to this with a friend one evening. We emailed back and forth writing rhyming couplets about whatever. I don't remember how it started or how it finished but I do remember how much fun and how re-energizing it was.

    Back when I was teaching, I did this with my students during a creative writing class. We all started with the phrase "it was a dark and stormy night" and then wrote for two minutes and then passed the page on to the person next to us who then added to the story and so on and so forth. The whole thing was was perfect when one of the most stubborn students exclaimed, "I can't believe I'm having fun writing!"

    Believe it, kid.

    Thanks for sharing, Helen.

  14. At the fan fiction site I started writing on, we used to do 'round robins' where a dozen or so people would be put in an order and then do this--it was a BLAST! It's a great way to keep the juices flowing!

  15. Fantastic idea, and a great reminder to have fun with our passion--I think that creates word flow.

  16. I used to do this a lot with a friend. We came up with some crazy stories. It's lots of fun.

  17. I've yet to misplace my muse but I've heard of an exercise like this being used in writing classes where the instructor teams up the partners. The results can be hilariious and outrageous.

  18. Helen: This is a great prompt to get us all writing. It reminds me of two mystery novels that were also fun for readers: Naked Came the Manatee with 13 Floridian writers each picking up where the previous chapter left off. In that case, Carl Hiaasen took on the challenge of wrapping it up in the final chapter. The best of writing? Hardly, but fun to see the creative process.

    Then I especially enjoy the follow-on called Naked Came the Phoenix with 13 women writers including Lisa Scottoline, Faye Kellerman, Laurie King and other's I've forgotten. In this case, Nevada Barr took on the challenge of getting the story started and the major characters introduced. Again, it wasn't a great book but it was a fun read. Afterwards, I tried to figure out the challenges that each faced in moving the story forward.

    Our local library had five women speak about the two mystery novels they had written. In that case, it was a true collaborative effort. Over time they found that one of them was great at dialogue, another one worked on character development, another wrote the background pieces, etc.

    Here's to more creativity and a special thanks to you for showing that there are many ways to revive our juices.

  19. That's a great idea. I find that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) gets me going. It's the one time I write without editing and without looking back. In November I make a commitment to write a 50,000 page novel - 1,600+ words a day. I then put it aside for a few months. I find most of it is usable. It's fun to do it with friends and we e-mail suggestions and encouragement to each other.


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