Feed your writing by changing it up

Today I head north to participate in the VLP Short Story contest. During this contest, participants are given a theme (on the spot, no advance prep work) and then have three hours to write a complete story. The only resource we have is the word processing program on the computers provided. I have to say, the environment is not at all what I am used to when writing.

My desk set-up at home is meant for long writing sessions. My computer screen is huge. HUGE. Several cups hold luscious pens, sticky notes of every color, and a fingernail file and dental floss (must-haves!). I sit on a tall, well-built, comfortable chair at a desk that allows me to move my legs in all sorts of ways to “change it up” as necessary. Boxes of tissues are always at hand for my allergies. My cats come and keep my company, and the dog often finds a spot under my feet, creating an awesome footrest. I have stacks and stacks of papers and books threatening to topple onto to me at any time (I heart chaos!), and my walls are covered with notes, prompts, words of encouragement, and visual inspiration. A space heater and air purifier share the corner. Windows are in every wall, and I can see hawks swooping, deer running, cows meandering, and the occasional turkey trying to sneak around all cartoony-stealthily like. A few times a week, a farm tractor will rumble by. Otherwise, the road is quiet.

computer labThe contest computer lab, which is meant for short stays, has none of that. The contest is held in a stark white room where participants have to sit side by side. It is far from the ideal writing environment for me personally as little noises, like a person sniffling or a clock ticking, drive me batty. The absence of noise can also set me on edge, such as when people are supposed to be typing but no one is. The lab has a heavy door that swishes when it opens and makes a muffled thud-click when it closes. Thank goodness the lab itself is closed to everyone else, so it’s only the participants going in and out. There are no windows, and the lab is located next to a parking area, so traffic is never-ending. In fairness, the restrooms at the contest facility are much cleaner than my own, so there is that. And last year the hosts provided cookies. It’s hard to beat cookies.

When I participated last year, I sat down at my terminal and thought for sure I would write three lines and then run screaming from the room. No way would I be able to write an entire story—start, middle, and end—in such a drastically non-writer-friendly space. When the theme was announced, I almost starting packing up my bag right then. I probably would have left if I had been sitting closer to the door and wouldn’t have had to push past the others to escape. But I stayed. I told myself just to write whatever I wanted, whatever came to mind, even if it was nonsense and gobbledygook. So I did just that…and it was primo gobbledygook, lemme tell you.

But then something happened. About an hour into the three-hour event, my nonsense started making sense. It took shape. It led me along a path and pulled in crazy scenes and crazier characters and about twenty minutes before the deadline, it lit up a conclusion to the story with bright flashing neon lights. With five minutes to spare, I reviewed the 3500 words on my screen. It was a story, a complete story with character arcs and themes and everything. Somehow, in this stark no-writer-can-work-here place, I had written.

Not only had I written, but it turned out that I had written the winning entry (and a story that is being made into a short film, but more on that in a later post). I am pretty sure the earthworms on Mars (Mars-worms?) heard me squealing when I found out. I also realized that sometimes shaking it up, putting yourself in an environment not conducive to writing, can lead to something new and exciting…which is why I am heading north again today. My goal is not to win this year, but to write, pure and simple, because as long as I get five words on the page, I will be a winner.

What do you do to change up your writing routine?

By the way, if you’re interested in reading the award-winning story, Skeleton Dance is now available on Amazon (99 cents or via Kindle Unlimited). Let me know what you think 🙂

Skeleton Dance final

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