Spoken and Done without Preparation

I need to write the short story meant to come from the brilliant prompt that I sent to my writer’s group: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Right after I finish this blog.

There is a story teller/radio comic who begins his schtick with “Have you ever . . .

[pick one]

–stepped in dog poop and without realizing wiped the bottom of your shoe on your trousers?

–called “missing persons” to find out where you are?

–ordered a set of vintage dinner forks on Ebay only to receive a package of Melmac ashtrays?

. . . I have.”

(This becomes repetitive after a while, especially because his voice is rather nasal and tired.)

However, it’s a great writing exercise to come up with possible statements to [insert here].

People who practice writing—I mean as a “creative”, a term new to my word taxonomy and quite apt—are always striving to find the right word for their chosen style. I am a lover of style in a writer. Story is one thing, but story and style together are juicy.

And I suppose that’s the same thing as “voice”, although voice is closer—linked to a character or a geography. Style, I think, is words strung together in attractively, like the inexplicable way some people dress.

One can’t really explain why, on such a person, plaids blend in so well with the florals, violet and avocado shades don’t clash, texture—wool, knits, cotton, sateen—flow together so that, like some art, one can’t stop looking at the outfit.

When I look at poems and read them, I see how style is essential to the poet. It’s essential to me when I am reading a novel or non-fiction. I want to be amazed, startled, surprised and talked down to in the sense that I feel great because I get what I am being told.

I want to be led. I want to see the bread crumbs but not the loaf at the end—at least, not too soon. I want to understand the logic of the characters.

The last 15 or so years of my own long writing schtick I have been seeking function for my writing, learning about branding and genre, trying to force my square writing into the round hole of self-publishing. Authors who succeed at this amaze me, and I love having their output at my disposal.

But I’m realizing I’m not one of them.

I’ve churned out a few books that are truly novels and fit into one genre or another—historicals, magical realism. Of those only two had that spark of coming quickly, with plot and characters that wrote themselves. The rest took years of painful re-writing. And I’ve started another historical and a dystopic science fiction book, but they won’t come alive.

A long time friend, whose writing I respect and admire, tells me to just drop them. Why bother going back? If it’s not flowing, there’s something wrong with it. Start something else.

It’s not that easy. It’s like having to give away a favorite pet. Creatives are filled with doubt most of the time, I think. We tell our internal editors to shut the f**k up, but it’s like herding cats. They will do what they want to do and if you cage them up, you end of letting them out because they sound so desperate.

So writing prompts, like the one at the top of this page, distract my self-criticism long enough to get something rather good out onto the page. And exercises—as much as I hate them—do the same.

I’ve taken up doodling again. It’s wonderfully relaxing. I start out with a drawn circle or a face. And then the decorating begins, using felt tip drawing pens. But if I stray into representation—like drawing the same face again from a different angle, the quality appears to drop away. I began this blog today the same way, like a doodle. There is no weight, no expectation—not even a goal. There is just the art.

Maybe one can’t doodle a masterpiece. But one may get an idea for one.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Spoken and Done without Preparation — 1 Comment

  1. If a book won’t live, try changing something basic, like the tense or the person. My “Polar City Blues” was dead in past tense, flowed in present. Or try 1stperson instead of 3rd or vice versa.