I had a deadline at the end of last week: I had to write a short story (800-1200 words) on the theme of 'unwanted guest' and email it to my tutor. I find writing to theme tricky at the best of times - unless I'm choosing the theme, it tends to confine rather than inspire me. Submitting my story to a writer who is far more successful than I could hope to be, a writer who has been shortlisted for the Booker prize, just added pressure.
I clammed up. I started three stories and none of them worked. I was paralyzed by my desire to do a good job.
However, I managed to get something handed in on time. It isn't my best work, but it shows some potential. I will probably develop it, although the finished story will be closer to 2000 words. My tutor's critique was incredibly helpful and I felt inspired rather than embarrassed, which is always good.
How I Got Going:
1. I went for a walk. As annoying as my mother is when she insists I need more fresh air, she's probably right. My mind was no longer focused on the empty computer screen in front of me. Most of it was focused on not falling over, since I was walking in a wood. The change of environment refreshed me.
2. I played The Interview Game. This might sound weird and I've no idea if anyone else does it, but I find it helpful. The Interview Game is imagining you're giving an interview about your story. Simples! You can imagine the story is finished or that you're being interviewed about the process of writing it as it's being written.
Start by having the interviewer ask easy questions - what is your story about? What themes does it address? What can you tell me about this character? Move onto tougher, more specific questions when you feel comfortable. I find myself giving surprising answers that help me progress with my work. It also clarifies my thoughts so that I can focus on how to progress.
3. I decided to write crap. I got to the stage where I seriously saw myself handing in a blank page. Handing in any rubbish is better than nothing; I'd rather my tutor saw me as a bad writer than a lazy cow who is wasting an expensive degree. Plus it's easier to rewrite and edit crap than a blank page.
4. I changed my perspective. I realised that my tutor doesn't expect us to hand in perfect work. In fact, if I was a perfect writer (assuming such a thing could exist), why would I be doing an MA? I saw the assignment as an opportunity to get great feedback and stopped trying to be perfect. This gave me permission to write the type of story I usually write, making the theme fit my style of work rather than trying to change my style to suit the theme.
5. I read a good book and had an epiphany.Well, kinda. I'm reading a very good collection of short stories, Diving Belles by Lucy Wood. She did a Creative Writing MA and reading the book helped me realise that every exercise I do, every story I write, is a step on the journey towards my ultimate goal. If I want to be published, I've got to work on my craft and not be afraid of showing my work to people, which is partly what this blog is all about.