As you may or may not know, I write for an online short fiction magazine called Storgy. The concept of the magazine is unique – readers are encouraged to interact with the writing process by choosing each new story title via a poll. The nine contributing writers then have a week to produce a story based on the winning title, so essentially, it’s written especially for the readers. It’s amazing how different each work is, considering there is no variation in the title.
Of course, each month I go through my very own unique torture, wondering how on earth I’m going to come up with a story in seven days, influenced by a title I’d be unlikely to choose myself. This month’s winning title was ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’.
Relatively quickly, an idea developed, but I approached it with caution, as popular writing wisdom dictates that the first thing that comes into your head can be unimaginative or clichéd. So, after dismissing my first idea, I spent the next five days pondering and cogitating until… well, actually… nothing. I scribbled, I typed, but none of my scrawling could be described as a story. Nothing gelled. On paper, I had a title about a shotgun and not much else. Pah.
That week, when I wasn’t frustrated by my lack of creativity, I did my usual things:
- I watched past episodes of Misfits, a series I’ve been aware of but never watched – WHY have I never watched Misfits? – and was distraught when loner Simon, and his girlfriend Alesha, left the series. I was totally caught up in his superhero transformation/time travel storyline. And yes, I do have a Superman fixation.
- I worked in a primary school where they ran a dress-as-you-like day to raise funds. Some of the younger kids came in fancy dress. Also, during that week, some children drew my attention for various reasons: developmental, learning or social issues, or difficulties at home.
- I went for country walks with the dog.
- I read (and enjoyed) The Humans by Matt Haig, which relates the story of an alien being visiting Earth to assassinate people he sees as a threat to the future of the Universe.
All of these things happened as part of my week, without me giving them much thought or consideration – but at the end of day five, an idea began to crystallise in my mind about a loner who received the best Christmas present ever, and what happened as a consequence of this.
The next day, I sat and I wrote my entire story in one sitting. Despite my worries, the week wasn’t wasted after all. Yes, I may have struggled with words and ideas, but it was because my brain was busy, busy, busy. It didn’t want to be disturbed; it had more important things to deal with – absorbing events around it and piecing them together with the title, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle.
No, my story wasn’t about the things that happened to me that week, but I’d used aspects of each day to create my imaginary world. Bizarrely, at one point, a memory of the fairy tale, The Little Match Girl – a story I loved as a child – influenced me too.
You see, our brains enjoy grappling with a puzzle. They like to connect and make sense out of fragments of information. That’s why one method for releasing ideas when you’re suffering from writer’s block is to use a number of unrelated words to conjure up a storyline. It’s a process which works in a similar way to what happened to me this week – though I made associations from the life around me.
My associations were made up of:
- a shotgun
- a child who is young for his age
- a primary school dress-as-you-like day
- winter countryside
- The Little Match Girl
Weirdly, these concepts all fit perfectly into a story. Yet they came about, not by sitting at my computer, but by getting on with my ordinary routine. (Although, having said that, sitting and staring can have its uses too.)
Writing is so much more than the physical process of writing itself. It’s also about about moving away from the keyboard, doing other things, communicating, relating to others, noticing the finer detail, and absorbing the things you experience.
If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. Next time you’re struggling with ideas, or the story won’t flow, get up and go out.
Let your mind open itself to the world, and you’ll be surprised how quickly it will help you to perform your writerly magic.
If you would like to read my version of Bring Me My Shotgun click the link below: