On being prompted

I often find it easier to write a short story when given a prompt. Whether it’s simply a character’s name, a physical characteristic, or even just a nudge to continue a previous character’s story.

When given this tiny push, all of a sudden my brain unlocks itself and the lines just come tumbling out. Almost as if they were there all along.

But when staring at a blank page, I find that more often than not I’m blocked. Every so often an idea tackles me. Usually at the most inconvenient times when I can’t possibly do anything about it. But they’re few and far between.

Perhaps it’s because I have so many things to focus on in life that drain my mental energy – work, family, book blogging – or maybe it’s ennui. But when someone says, “Hey, you should write a story about a guy with green eyes!” all of a sudden that story starts to unfold.

It was much the same for the story I had published in the anthology. I was given a set of parameters – word count, YA, an anti-love story and Valentine’s Day – and within three hours the story was written.

The same cannot be said for my last installment in the “Cop and the…” series. Without a nudge, while I had the title in place, it took me nearly eight months to write it. My brain was on total lockdown and I had to fight against everything in me to turn that idea into a short story.

This morning someone asked me whether I planned on continuing Shelby’s story. (Shelby was my character in “Love Bites.”) I hadn’t. It was just a one-off. But as soon as I finished reading the question, the very next lines in the story hit me. And the story’s direction just started to fall into place.

Almost all the stories I posted on The WastelandZ are ones that derived from a prompt. I was given parameters (most of them quite silly) but it made writing the stories that much more fun.

I’m starting to wonder if it’s because of the fact that I can say, “Hey, it wasn’t my idea!”

Being prompted takes the pressure off. It takes the responsibility off in some ways, too. If the story is a total failure, well, it wasn’t really my idea to begin with. Of course that’s b.s. because it was my combination of words that caused it to fail. But I think it’s enough to trick my brain into feeling less self-conscious. It takes away the question of whether the idea is stupid. It takes away some of the self-doubt.

It’s very possible that I see a prompt as a challenge, a way to prove to myself that I can do something. While I’m not competitive with others, I am insanely competitive with myself.

So when someone says, “I wish you’d write a story about X!” my brain goes immediately into challenge mode and gears itself up to tackle it.

I just wish writing without a prompt, a nudge, a suggestion was easier. If the ideas came as quickly for those stories as they do when prompted to write, maybe I’d actually finish to satisfaction one of the full-length stories I’ve been writing fighting or maybe I’d try to write a few short stories that I could submit somewhere for publication – something I haven’t yet attempted.

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