“Exercises teach you how to hear the outside world as a sea of prompts, a sea of exercises for potential stories. Doing exercises trains you to appreciate the value of an overheard conversation, a newspaper story, or a friend’s anecdote, and how it might be used…” -- Pamela Painter in “You and the Piano Bench” [Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, 2009]When I began writing, I had mixed results creating stories from prompts and exercises. My first story accepted for publication came from a prompt that instructed the author to choose one of three title suggestions. After that I floundered in a “sea of prompts.” The writing was forced, and the stories lacked something.
This past weekend I participated in my second Writers' Weekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest. For those of you who are not familiar with this contest, participants register -- and pay a $5 entry fee -- to take part. On the designated Saturday, all participants are e-mailed a prompt and word limit (950 for both contests I entered) for the story. Author’s have 24 hours to write a story based on the prompt and return it.
Not everyone agrees with me -- in fact, I don’t know of anyone who does -- but I find this challenge fun. I didn’t win anything the first time I entered, and won’t know the results of this competition until the end of August. I’m sure I’ll be disappointed if I don’t win, but the angst won’t last long. I do it for the challenge of setting a goal and reaching it. Even if you don’t feel comfortable entering a contest, find a few writing prompts online (Mr. Google can help) and give them a try. It may even knock a few chips off the boulder in your head that's blocking ideas from reaching the surface so you can write another chapter or two on the novel you’re working on.