The value of ‘stream of consciousness writing’

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Several years ago when I was trying to establish a writing routine, I picked up a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In it she suggests the practice of Morning Pages, whereby you do (longhand) three pages of ‘stream of consciousness’ writing every morning as soon as you wake up.

Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand.

I ended up doing MP for many years and now have hundreds of ‘word-full’ diaries and exercise books, which, if nothing else, serve as a nice reminder of how messed up I used to be!

My latest ‘habit’ is 750 words, which has a similar premise but is done online. Like NaNoWriMo, it awards badges for reaching milestones, typing fast etc. and these little incentives, makes it a very easy practice to maintain. However, I’m trying to use it in a slightly different way to Morning Pages. If I’m starting a short story or a piece of flash fiction or a scene from my novel, I use it to brainstorm ideas or word sprints and honestly, it’s tremendously effective. Yesterday, I did a flash fiction which I’ve entered into a competition and today I worked out the idea for a short story which I need to submit in a couple of weeks. Try it – it might give you the inspiration you need!

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Trust your imagination

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and the ideas will flow …

I recently signed up for a writing competition – The NYC short story challenge. http://www.nycmidnight.com/Competitions/SSC/Challenge.htm

It wasn’t my normal type of comp. Generally I stick to something that I know I can do and consequently I’ve recently started to achieve a little success – occasionally winning or being placed or shortlisted. However, I suppose I’ve been feeling restless. I know what I can do but am also aware of what I can’t, hence my reason for entering.

The challenge goes like this. All entrants are put in groups with about 35 people in each. For the first round they are given a brief consisting of three elements 1/ genre 2/ subject and 3/ character about which they have to write a story of under 2,500 words in a week. The top five in each group then go through to the second round and the challenge continues in a similar way.

My brief was:  

Genre – suspense     Subject – PTSD   Character – X-Ray technician. 

When I saw this, my heart sank. I’d never written a suspense story and knew little of PTSD and X-Ray technicians. However, I let the elements float around for a while in my mind and gradually ideas started to form. The next day I did a word sprint, (a spontaneous typing exercise, something I got into the habit of doing for NaNoWriMo and a great way of getting the words down), and this enabled me to come up with a first draft and the last few days I’ve been fine tuning the story so it’s ready to submit before this Saturday’s deadline.

Of course I’d love to get in the top five but even if I don’t, I can look back on this week and feel happy that I’ve learned something new. I’ve learned how (in theory at least!) to write a suspense story and I’ve realised that I have the ability to write about anything if I only trust my imagination.