Writing Ideas

Tuesday 26 November 2019

 by Ashley Lister

They say that one of the most frightening things a writer can encounter is a blank page. I’m not sure this is 100% true.  I’m a writer and, given the choice between a dark cellar full of spiders or a blank page, I’m happy to have that blank page every time. It would be the same answer if someone asked me if I’d like to stare at a blank page or listen to someone dragging their fingernails down a chalkboard. I would happily opt for the blank page.

However, I do know that the blank page can be intimidating to a lot of writers and in an effort to make it less daunting, I thought it might be useful to share a handful of ideas that might inspire creativity.

Please don’t think this is altruistic behaviour on my part. I’ve written a book, How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published and, if you’re interested in writing short fiction, I’d dearly love you to buy a copy.  The book is based on knowledge and experience I’ve accrued from fifteen years of teaching creative writing, and from twenty-five years of being a published author, and from the research I conducted whilst acquiring my PhD in creative writing. If you want to write short fiction, I want you to buy a copy of the book.

One way I find useful for breaking the spell of the blank page is to write a simple haiku. For those unfamiliar with the form, a haiku is a three-line poem, based loosely on our interpretation of the Japanese form which contains seventeen ‘on’ or ‘morae’. Here in the West we’ve interpreted that to translate as syllables and the lines are split into a syllable count of 5-7-5. For example:

a new story world
sits beyond the white screen of
each new document

The values of writing a haiku are immeasurable as a warm-up exercise prior to writing something longer. This is like a runner stretching before a marathon, or a musician going through scales before performing with an orchestra. No one expects other professional artists to jump straight into being creative, so why should it be different for writers?

Write a haiku before you start each morning. It could be something fun to describe the weather (it’s raining again / just like it did yesterday / and the day before) or you could use it summarise the plot you’re working on or a particular character you want to write about or just say something about the environment in which you’re working (a fat little dog / sits heavily on my lap / his head on my arm).

When I get students to write haikus in class, I get a genuine pleasure from watching them count on their fingers as they deliberately shape the words to confirm that they’ve identified each syllable correctly. This is not a normal way for anyone to interact with words, and it’s one of the reasons why I think it works so well as a warm-up exercise for every writer.

So, before you start writing, take a couple of minutes to create a haiku, just to loosen your writing muscles. It gets you thinking about words in a different way, it helps diminish the dread of the blank page, and it helps to keep the blade of your creativity razor sharp. And remember, if you want even more useful advice on How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published, don’t forget to order a copy of my book.


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