Honestly, I can write anywhere. I always carry a notebook with me and I also have my phone most of the time. And on occasion, I purposely pack my laptop and water bottles and head out into the world to write, either at a cafe, coffee shop, park, or other public place. Amusingly, I spent some time building a desk out of a repurposed 1920s wardrobe door and twin nightstands from the same furniture set. I had a piece of glass for the top of the desk and I decorated the hollow spaces under the glass with a bunch of military memorabilia I’ve collected from my career in the Marines. I’m sitting at this desk right now, and it’s really nice. But the truth is that I don’t often write here. I think it’s because there are too many distractions for me here in this room. Too many things to draw my eye and occupy my attention. I often find myself sitting at the wardroom table (our rooms all have nautical names, so where we eat is the wardroom). It’s a big empty wooden space with a view straight through the salon out into the front garden. It’s mostly filled with impersonal things (dishes and art and non-fiction books), so I’m not easily distracted sitting there. Plus, it’s awfully close to the coffee machine.
I have dreams of building a writing shed one day. Something cool and modern with a huge built-in desk with space for my music recording equipment and a comfortable sofa. But the more I consider how I write–and more importantly, how I want to live–I think it’s less and less likely that I will end up with a writing shed or studio after all. You see, my dream is to live on a sailing boat full time and write from there. Anchored off some tropical island clacking away at my stories, swimming the afternoon heat away, grilling freshly caught fish at night. So, the permanence of a writing shed doesn’t fit into that lifestyle at all.
But what I realized through this thought process is that we creators, we artists, should focus less on the where and on the tools and more on the simple (but difficult) act of creating. Wherever we find a comfortable place to write, with whatever writing tool we have on hand, we should sit down and do the work. To not do that is simply to make excuses and procrastinate away the little time we have left to make the things we want to put out in the world.
I love and hate writing prompts. If you don’t know what they are, picture a sentence or two that sounds something like: Write 1,500 words about a time you were lost in the woods. Writing prompts like this can be fun, but also frustrating. If you’re a writer, you know the feeling when you have an amazing idea and can sit down and write for an hour non-stop, ending up with five thousand words that you know will evolve into the greatest story you’ve ever told. And then the momentum fades and you realize you need to outline the story and do some character development and a whole lot of work before you can even contemplate writing an actual draft. Writing long fiction (novellas and novels) is a hard slog. It takes time and effort and consistency. And the resulting draft is usually pretty terrible. Writing prompts, on the other hand, are usually fun and can give you a respite from the work in progress that has you hating your decision to become a writer.
If you google “writing prompts” you’ll find more resources than you can ever take advantage of. Two places I have gone for writing prompts are bestselling author Chuck Wendig’s site (www.terribleminds.com) and Writing Time Fridays by Astrohaus, the makers of the distraction-free writing tool, Freewrite.
Writers are masters of distraction. And we always have writing that needs to be done. We have to finish our novel draft. Or a blog post that should have gone out yesterday. No matter what you’re behind on or seeking distraction from, writing prompts can help move you forward and build enough momentum to get back to your project.
Writing prompts pull you away from your distractions and provide a specific focused writing project that you can start and finish in the short term. This process can help you work out your writing chops and build your writing habit. They can also give you new perspectives and force you to write about topics you might not normally pick yourself.
Obviously, I highly recommend using writing prompts, whether you’re stuck or not. They’re fun–and if you write enough of them, you might even find that you can publish them as a collection, as I plan to do next year.
Today’s reading is the product of a writing prompt. I got it from Chuck Wendig’s personal website, terribleminds.com. The prompt was something like: Write a 1,000-word piece of flash fiction about a tree. I’m going to read it in its entirety on the podcast. I hope you enjoy it.