Nearly two years ago I set myself the challenge of writing a new piece of fiction each day. I was fed up with academic writing, with its formal stiffness and convoluted style. I wanted to return to the playfulness of fiction, of creating a story out of pure imagination, of stating something and not knowing what direction it would go in.
Like any muscle, whatever part of the brain that controls writing atrophies if it’s not used and, after nearly a decade in academia, I was a little rusty. I started with some warm ups, taking real parts of my day and fictionalising them. Just one or two paragraphs a day to start with, concentrating on making sure I had a beginning, middle, and end in this compact format. Day by day, these little vignettes helped restore my confidence and encourage both ideas and words to flow more naturally.
What follows is one of these stories. I can’t remember exactly how it came about, whether I was suffering from writer’s block myself at the time or if it just seemed like a good topic. But I do remember enjoying the ride, even though I didn’t know where it was going. I hope you do too.
She stared at the blank screen. The cursor blinked on and off, waiting to be sent on its merry way across the page. All that was needed was words.
But which ones?
She glanced at the clock. By her calculations, she had 3 hours and 45 minutes to write a blog entry. Four and a half hours before Lucy started to send her panicked messages. Five before those messages turned into phone calls. And what, maybe six hours, before she was never asked to write a guest blog post again?
Dammit. This was supposed to be her chance to break out of her little corner of the internet. She had 1832 regular readers on her own blog, a humorous take on life as a veterinary technician. But Lucinda Carlisle, author of “Things Lucy Loves”, had at least ten times that number and there were rumours she was going to be offered a column in a national magazine.
She needed inspiration. She closed the document window and brought up Lucy’s blog, a hodgepodge of everything the interwebs had to offer. There were the latest fashion trends. Pictures of cute animals. Reviews of the latest best sellers and Lucy’s most-watched TV shows. And of course, mentions of Lucy’s favourite blogs. All written in the confident tone of someone who knew what she liked and wasn’t afraid to express it. She clicked around at random, hoping something would trigger a flash of insight.
Three hours even. Okay, she could do this. What had Lucy said last week? “Just write about anything that strikes your fancy. I love your writing! It’s so funny; that story about the bulldog who swallowed an egg had me in stitches.” But that was the problem; all her best stories had already been on her own blog, and she didn’t think the readers of TLL necessarily wanted to hear about the various types of bodily fluid she regularly got covered in as part of her job.
What was needed was movement. She closed the lid of her laptop and turned away from the desk. “Brucie boy,” she called out, “Wanna go for a run?” Her chocolate lab lifted his head from the kitchen rug and his tail began to strike a steady rhythm against the floor. She put on her running shoes, leashed up Bruce, and glanced at the clock as she headed out the doors. Two hours and forty minutes.
The run was invigorating. As she headed for the shower, she heard the usual litany of splashes and slurps as Bruce lapped up water and made a mental note to refill his bowl when she was done. She luxuriated in the heat of the shower, waiting for an idea to come to her. It had never let her down.
And yet this time it did. Her mind was as blank as it had been earlier, as empty of topics as it had been all week as she tried to come up with something that would appeal to the varied audience of TLL. Something that was playful and fun and not too heavy. That meant a PSA on spaying and neutering your pets was out, and anyway, didn’t Bob Barker have the market cornered on that? There was the story about the python with an abscess, but people could well be eating lunch while reading the blog and she didn’t want to be responsible for them losing their appetite.
She threw on her clothes and walked to the kitchen. She cleaned up the mess Bruce had made around his water dish and filled it up again, catching sight of the clock on the microwave as she did so. One and a half hours to go.
She sat back at the desk and opened a new document. “Just write something!” she hissed under her breath and her fingers hovered over the keyboard. She tentatively reached out and hit the letter H. The phone rang. Startled, she reached out and grabbed it, checking the caller ID as she did so. Not Lucy, but her mother.
“Hi, mum … yeah, I’m doing well … yeah, I’m working on my next story as we speak … for that blog I mentioned … yeah, that’s the one … no, I haven’t had a chance to email Aunt Karen yet …”
And so it went. When she finally came up for air, she had fifty-five minutes left. She looked back at the screen, at the letter H standing alone at the top of the page. In a rapid burst, she began to write: How I Cope with Writer’s Block