Where do I start? Will I write thousands and thousands of words? Or will I stare blankly until pulling out three kicking and screaming paragraphs by my fingernails? Will I have the mental strength and endurance to write anything today?
These unbidden and inevitable questions with the accompanying anxiety are enough to make me freeze at the sight of my desk chair each morning.
Just like any other challenge, writing becomes easier (note, I don’t say “easy”) with training and practice, but jumping straight into the main body of work that I’m currently writing can be as helpful as someone diving into a swimming pool to do their daily laps before taking off their shoes. Frustrating, messy, and likely to make one get back out of the pool (or desk chair) entirely.
The following are several of my own writing warm ups to stretch the gray cells first thing. Maybe one or more will get your synapses firing too.
SWITCH IT UP
If you typically type when writing, grab some paper for your warm up. If you always write longhand, find a keyboard.
Keeping a stack of college-ruled filler paper beside the desk for my daily writing calisthenics tricks me into writing out general ideas, the start of an article, anything instead of cringing at an empty Word document for all eternity. Because it isn’t in the medium I normally use, I feel freer to make mistakes, less pressured to write “well,” and focused enough on the different physical task that thoughts slip through onto the paper without searching around silently in my brain for hours.
BORROW A KID
If you’re a parent, enlist your offspring. Tell them a story, making it up as you go. If you’re not a parent or your children are grown (who knows, they might like a daily story anyway), call up a niece, nephew, cousin, neighbor, or the friend that most closely represents a child to you.
Creating something on the fly doesn’t allow much time to consider whether or not the plot is exciting or the characters’ goals are sufficiently challenging. The action of making something new and immediate opens a variety of doors and unleashes all manner of dormant inspiration.
I suggest telling your story to a kid, because they’re usually more exciting participants. They might even help or create a few more obstacles along the way. But fair warning: kids can also be the most honest of critics. Remind yourself it’s a warm up and not up for a Pulitzer.
BORROW A KID . . . AGAIN
Same or different child, your choice. This time ask them what today’s short story should be about. They might have ideas ready or might require a little prompting. If the former, you’re off to the races. If the latter, a few questions could help grease their mental skids.
Who should my story be about?
Where does that person/creature/thing live?
What do they want more than anything?
What scares them?
There are scads of incredible writing prompt sources out there, but if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to cherry pick a prompt that seems simpler. Asking a kid manipulates my brain into thinking up nonsensical tales. Kid ideas can be bizarre, sweet, surprisingly insightful, or monumentally mundane, any of which might stretch me to write out of my comfort zone. And with a real life wee one giving me the specs, I’m less likely to back out of the offered prompt.
MAKE A LIST
Your list could be related to whatever bigger project you’re working on or could be a total departure. Important to note, this is not meant to be an informative and utilitarian list but an exploration of every weird, neurotic, and useless idea possible.
Give yourself a character in a sticky situation – no need to be logical, deep, or complex – and make a list of every ridiculous and just plain bad way to resolve it.
A woman survived a fall from a ledge but now has to get her injured self to safety before the tide comes in around her. She could . . .
- Make a rope out of washed-up seaweed and a grappling hook from her hiking boots to pull herself up the ledge.
- Scavenge rocks, shells, and live animals to toss back up over the ledge to catch the attention of passing foot traffic.
- Befriend the sea creatures who will ferry her to safety around the bend in the shoreline.
- Strip completely and set fire to her belongings in an effort to fan smoke signals with her pants.
- Summon the local fairies and trade her first born child for their assistance.
Enjoy making up insane, inappropriate, and inconsistent options. List the absolute worst things to say at a funeral or the stupidest things for a frog to wish. It’s scary how many times a legitimate idea comes from the mix.
REWRITE A CLASSIC
Pick a well-known story. Write an excerpt from the perspective of an insignificant character. Or change the occupation and/or ambition of someone in a fairy tale. Suddenly, you’re telling the fascinating and tragic story of the misunderstood Lobelia Sackville-Baggins coping with the annoying family crackpot, Bilbo, who disgraces the clan, wandering off to certain death with dwarves without the decency to ensure the safety of the heirloom egg cup collection back home. Or you’re spinning the tale of Phil Rumpelstiltskin the civil engineer who constructs an entire transit infrastructure over three nights in exchange for the mayor’s support in the upcoming gubernatorial race.
It could end up as just another document for the recycling bin, but it could also let the lid off of your creativity and launch you back into your routine with a fresh (or potentially skewed) spring in your step.