Recent discussions here at the site have focused on the need to write fast, to put butt in chair and get the work done. Catie mentioned it the other day in the context of NaNoWriMo. Edmund and James Maxey took the idea to the extreme on Friday. And, of course, A.J. has been telling us to write fast for some time now. All of them are right. I think that putting our internal editor at arm’s length and delving into a project in a way that forces us to write at a swift, steady pace so that we get the thing done, is all to the good. Our goal, of course, has to be completing that first draft so that we can then move to revising and polishing, and that’s the important thing to remember: James Maxey might have written his book in a week, but I guarantee you he took additional time to edit that first draft so that it met the standards he has established for himself with his previous work.
These are things that most established writers do as a matter of course: They write quickly so as to get their first drafts done; and they revise extensively, because they know that their initial drafts usually aren’t ready for publication.
But there is something else that established writers of all stripes do all the time: They write on demand.
What does that mean? Last month I taught at the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Annual Conference, and in one of my workshops I had the students in the room pull out a sheet of paper and spend twenty minutes writing the beginning of a story. A short while later, I had them do another writing exercise that involved putting the character they had created for the first exercise in a new situation. Just about every writer in the room expressed some trepidation about writing on demand in this way. For about thirty seconds. And then every one of them began to write.
Nonfiction writers do stuff like this all the time. Journalists working as freelancers for magazines and such get assignments of this sort: “Give me 5,000 words on snorkling in the Caribbean by the end of the month,” or “We want a feature-length article on Warren Buffett by Friday.” A few years ago, I was invited into my first themed anthology. An editor approached me and said, “I’d love for you to be in the anthology I’m working on; can you write me a dragon story?” I had never written a dragon story, but in minutes I had an idea for one. The result is one of the best short pieces I’ve ever done. I’ve since written a short story for another themed antho, and Faith and I have been invited to collaborate for yet another one. Two years ago this week, I was hired to write the novelization of ROBIN HOOD. In that case, I was given five weeks to write a 90,000 word novel using another writer’s script as the basis for the book.
Writing on demand — having someone tell us not only when we should turn a story in and how long it should be, but also what (in general terms) it should be about — is a terrific exercise for any writer. I don’t know that I will ever be asked to write another novelization; I certainly don’t expect that I’ll have to write it quite that quickly. But I know that I could if I had to. I know that I am capable of writing pretty much anything in just about any semi-reasonable time frame. And I know that I can come up with story ideas for all sorts of anthology themes or writing prompts.
Most of us spend the bulk of our writing time working on our own stories or books, so it would seem that writing on demand in the way I’m describing is somewhat beyond our normal creative experience. And yet right now I am forcing myself to write short stories in the Thieftaker universe. I don’t know yet what I’ll do with all these stories — some I’ll submit for publication; some I’ll make available for free on the D.B. Jackson website as a way of generating more interest in the upcoming books. But I’ve already written two stories this fall, and I intend to write at least one more (I’m hoping for two) before year’s end. I also want to come up with proposals for two more Thieftaker books. Faith is working on additional ideas for Jane Yellowrock stories and books. A.J. is coming up with more Darwen Arkwright storylines. Misty has a couple of new projects going — one a follow-up to Mad Kestrel, another totally separate from the Kestrel series. In short, we all create on demand, because if we don’t, we can’t survive in this business.
How about you? Do you make yourself write on demand? Would you like to try? It’s almost Thanksgiving, so I was thinking it might be fun to try a holiday-themed writing prompt. Here’s your assignment: Write a fantasy/horror/paranormal/speculative fiction story about something touching on the Thanksgiving holiday. Don’t take too long to plot it out. Just start writing it. Write fast, remember? Don’t over think. And to make sure that you don’t, why don’t you give us the first hundred words or so here in the comments section? Have fun with it; do something innovative, something you haven’t thought to try before. Ready? Go!David B. Coe http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net
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