I had the pleasure of helping edit some short stories today for a writing class. The assignment was to write a story in 10 minutes or less, in the spirit of a Native American legend, explaining something we take for granted in our modern world. The stories had titles like, "Why the Sun is in the Sky," "How Snakes and Legless Lizards Came to Be," and, my personal favorite, "Why Women Talk So Much." (In case you're wondering, a lovely, handsome man wooed a young maiden and they would have lived happily ever after, except she ran around the woods and proclaimed her love to all who would listen and he was hounded day and night by curious and annoying woodland creatures until he had enough and sailed away, leaving the maiden with only her own voice for company. I probably would have titled it, "Why Women are Better Off Alone Than With Some Tool Who Can't Express His Feelings," but that's just me...)
I must say, I was impressed. The stories were only a page or two in length, but fully formed. The students were instructed to use their senses, so the stories were engaging, but also to the point. There was no digression, no backstory, no sentences requiring more than one breath, no cramming of words where they don't fit just because they sound pretty. Sure, given more time the authors could have rounded out their stories, but the exercise reminded me that, at its core, writing is about the story. The plot. The point! So often, I find myself stumbling over my words, trying to craft something beautiful, publishable, worthy of a table at Barnes and Noble. I've stared at a blinking cursor, trying to sift literary gold from the muddy recesses of my brain for longer than the time it took these students to write an entire story. Maybe, in those instances, I should try to just write what happens. After all, once I lay the foundation, I can build upon it later. Like Maria von Trapp always said, the beginning (the very beginning) is a very good place to start. So, thank you, Mrs. Sloan's fourth grade class (yes, fourth graders!) for helping me get back to basics.
And, in that odd, inexplicable way that everything seems cosmically connected these days, I stumbled upon this link on InkyGirl's website (helpful blogger for writers, and ridiculously hilarious literary cartoonist). It's called "One Word," and each day it provides a different one-word prompt. Writers have 60 seconds to write about that word. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks like it would help those of us (you know who you are) with the tendency to look far too long before leaping.