Inner critics are assholes, for the first draft at least. They’re invited to the party for editing, but should only be fed the blandest of foods and given a word limit on how much they can contribute at that point. But in the beginning, when you’re generating and creating, that little jerk needs to get shoved in the trunk.
For a bazillion years, I have carved freewriting into my writing practice. I do this mostly because I need to train that critic to sit its ass down and let me breathe a little. Even when working on a longer project, 10 minutes with something fun, like a monkey who collects socks for example, clears the brain.
When I first started actually writing, and not just thinking about writing, I was lucky enough to be in some Amherst Method workshops. The method is based on the book “If You Want to Write” by Brenda Ueland. Brenda wrote this way back in the early 20th century, witnessing how much richer her student’s writing was if they didn’t worry about perfection.
The premise is to offer a few prompted suggestions like “make a list of 3 places you’ve lived” then, pick one and “make a list of how the weather or seasons affected that space”. After a few thoughtful minutes, set a timer for 10-15 minutes and write from the prompt. My dudes, some serious magic happened in these workshops. People working on fiction projects added rich sensory detail to their work, folks who were “non-writers” wrote poems that would make a honey badger weep.
Writing prompts can be a mixed bag. It’s all about what speaks to you. I have about 5 different strictly-prompt books that make me go ‘meh’, but once found 10 disparate words from a pile of magazines that helped draft a poem about new religion. Some of my best stories, though, have come from themed submission calls. Combinations of things I would NEVER have thought of on my own can plant seeds of stories I need to push out into the world (i.e. Feminist Bicycles in Space, or maybe write from the POV of a passenger who’s plane traveled 20 years into the future in 2 seconds.)
THIS is one of the reasons I love our Monthly Flash Fiction contest. We hand you a topic, this month is “Through the mirror darkly”. We give you 2 weeks to finish something (SHUT UP, INNER CRITIC!) And, the bonus, it doesn’t have to be really long, under 1k words, it just has to be good. You’ve got it in you. I know it. Set the timer. Don’t think too much. Get writing.
Featured image by Dee Ashley.