[Bre] The Short and The Long

August 5, 2014

The Short and The Long
(or how small pieces fuel your writing drive)

I have been writing. A lot(like over 50,000 words since mid-May, and for someone who’s annual average was 6,000 that is a big jump). But how I finally developed a sustainable writing habit took me my surprise. And as someone who had been stumbling and groping for productivity the last twenty years, I felt I had to pay it forward.

It is two parts: The Short and the Long.

The Short

The idea is simple enough. You have a prompt. In this case a word or phrase, like “Into the wild.” Then you write, but here are the rules:

• You have to write, edit and POST the work in 60 minutes or else.
• You also should not see the prompt until you are ready to write, because as soon as you see the prompt you are on the clock.

This prompt exercise is done once a week with a new prompt coming around the same time-pick a day-mine is Sunday.

Okay, you may say, so what? But here is what why this exercise worked so well for me and why it can also help jump start your own writing*.

These prompts can be anything, but I have been doing them for a specific fandom and have been writing fanfiction for these prompts.

• A time limit: You have a beginning and an end. This isn’t the Iliad. It is a fun, quick and timed piece.
• It don’t have to be perfect. You can’t be, not with a time restriction. You have to be quick and brutal in your edits because you don’t have time to go back and second guess.
• Production. So far there have been eleven prompts. I have done all eleven.
• Getting to know your characters: All the prompts deal with the same set of people, but each of prompts take different spins and scenarios. It has really taught me how to explore my characters voice and motivations.
• Accountability. I post all my prompts both on Tumblr and AO3 (like fanfiction.net but SOOO much better). I know I need to post it because I actually have people asking for me to post. It is a wonderful and scary feeling to know you are writing and someone else is actually waiting to read it. Which brings me to the next point.
• Community. Too often when you are writing long pieces or the never-ending WIP, we are too isolated. Find yourself a community. A writers’ group, or people on a site who share the same passion. Write and post and share. Writers need an audience. Otherwise, we are just writing to the void, which can sustain for a small while, but often it lonely and you wonder, “What is the point?”
• Freedom. I am playing in someone else’s playground. No one expects anything but a good time. The pressures and expectations I have placed on myself over the years disappeared here. It isn’t my universe and as such I could play in the sandbox and do crazy stuff I would be too nervous to do with my original projects.
• Satisfaction. Nothing is more amazing than the two words, “The End.” Finishing things does something for your psychic. Accomplishment is a heady motivator to help drive you. These small pieces are excellent for this purpose. Start. Write. Finish.

What did I find after I finished a prompt? I wanted to write more. I then started looking for other things to write, which then leads me to the next part.

The Long

To keep the drive going, I started a long project. One I knew would span months. But unlike before, I developed a schedule of sorts. I gave myself a deadline of a chapter a week (don’t alway met it but I do try). If I am frustrated with a chapter or I don’t know where to start, I go to a scene I have outlined and try to write one-even it is isn’t in the chapter I am currently writing.

On those days when I wasn’t in the mood to work on my WIP, I would still write by going through my list of unfulfilled prompts- other prompts sent to me outside of the weekly challenge- and write one of those.

The important thing was to write. Just write and like momentum on a bicycle, you just keep going.

Weave between the short, quick pieces and the longer on going projects. Try to always have something, both large and small you can work on-regardless of the time you have. By do this, you remove the guilt of not having a much time on day to write more than a few minutes, to being able to write hours the next. Going, back and forth between them, keeps your head fresh and your guilt level low.

Tldr: Vary your writing pieces, always have something to write about. Be passionate about what you are writing about, and finish. Finish all the things.

If you don’t want to write random pieces and want to stay in your WIP universe, write prompts about your own characters in different situations. Hell, even take them out of your universe-write it like fanfic based of your own creation. You may be surprised what will come out!


  • Faith August 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Where are you getting the prompts from, Bre?

  • bre August 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Hi Faith!

    For the weekly prompts I have been doing, I have been getting them from a tumblr blog. While they are meant to shippers to write fanfiction, it can be used for any type of writing. Just remember when you go to only look at the first one and write 60 minutes.

    I can’t stress that enough. It makes you really focus and crave out a block of time because you are racing against the clock.

    The prompts I have been using can be found here: http://smoakandarrow.tumblr.com/ffprompts

    • Faith August 5, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Ah, thanks!

      This is good advice, and something I have been coming to realize recently. I started doing weekly Friday Flashfic posts on my blog and it’s been great for getting my lazy butt to write more!

      • bre August 5, 2014 at 1:22 pm

        Yay! Awesome, Faith!

  • Perry August 5, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    That is all lovely advice, but?

    I think the last bit is wondrously important.

    The best way to get to know the characters you’re creating is to stick them into situations where you may otherwise not take them and see how they would react to it. How would they fight? How would they break? How would they deal with the inscrutable magical chimpanzee statue glaring balefully at them?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    And the more you stretch them, I think is how you figure out their breaking points and the things that define them as characters, making it easier to slot them back into your work later on.

    • bre August 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      Oh Perry:

      “How would they deal with the inscrutable magical chimpanzee statue glaring balefully at them?” The fact this line exists amuses me to no end.

      Awesome. Yes, agree completely with this. I have an older WIP which have been working off and on for years and have already thought of throwing my characters in different small prompts to help me flesh them out in my head. I think this is going to be my go-to tool when it comes to getting to know my characters hence forth!

  • ted August 5, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on the prompts. I think this is a fantastic idea. I really like the compactness of the one hour deadline.

    Author Chuck Wendig also does weekly prompts. You get 1000 words and you have one week to complete. You can check them out here. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/

  • willydd3 August 6, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I LOVE the advice, what a great post! However, I’d like to point out what I found most interesting in it:

    I have been writing. A lot.

    When can we read, Bre?!? At least tell us more about the long project, I want to know more!