Thirty in Thirty Day 18     Rebellion and Rule Following

 

 It was bound to happen.  My ability to follow a structured, prescriptive  program for any endeavor has a limited shelf life. It has always been thus.  Therefore, I was not surprised  this morning  when the inner rebel Wild Child who hides behind my reserved and obedient façade declared she was no longer even going to pretend to write from a list of prompts provided by someone else.  She shook her pen, tapped her notebook and said, “ I’ve got my own ideas!” 

If you are a recent reader of my posts you can spot the trajectory of this defection.  For the first five days of Thirty in Thirty I adhered to the prompts provided by storyaday.org with absolute fidelity.   I was able to make the prompts work with my Work-in Progress with Wild Child and Rule Follower both quite happy.  The trouble started when the website informed the participants that only 5 prompts per week would be provided. The other two days each week we were told to write whatever we chose as long as we wrote something.

Wild Child, seeing a small loophole, began picking at the edges of the portal to freedom.  “Yipee! “ But Prissy Miss Rule Follower insisted that the prompts should at least be chosen from the archives of the website, to preserve the spirit of the challenge. Wild Child chafed, but complied, plotting all the while.

The true rebellion began when I attended a literary festival last week in West Jefferson, NC.  My plucky little Wild Child relished in hearing gifted authors share and read from their work, participating in advice sessions for writers, and engaging in informal chats with fellow local wordsmiths.  I took copious notes, soaked up beautiful language and brainstormed. Writing ideas and prompts of my own filled up the pages of my notebook. 

Each day it became harder and harder to stick to the prompts provided.  The writing challenge that had begun with purpose and joy was becoming a struggle. I reasoned that I was tired from full days at the festival , so I allowed myself more leeway, which proved to be a slippery slope indeed. The ragged edges of that loophole were unraveling as Wild Child attempted to squeeze herself through. 

Last night I wrangled with words that fit the prompt for over an hour and then deleted the pitiful effort in frustration. I argued with my dear spouse over an inconsequential matter and then declared I was giving up writing.  He wisely did not comment on that declaration, which he has heard before. I huffed off to bed, but ten minutes later I was back up and at my computer. I knew what I wanted to write about, so I did an Internet search until I found a prompt that fit. The writing flowed and I was able to continue my streak to 17 days.

The big take-away from this for me is in the form of a question: Why did I keep trying to write to prompts that did not immediately spark an idea?  Or why did I think I needed to write to any prompt?  I can only think that Miss Rule Follower in her first attempt at Thirty in Thirty was trying to do it “right”.  She can be so earnest sometimes. She wanted to make sure the challenge was completed. She forgot that what matters is acquiring the habit of writing every day  in order to  improve as a writer and create a body of work. Thirty on Thirty is the writer’s version of a pianist practicing scales or a swimmer doing laps. It is the regular practice that is the key.

 

This is not to knock the use of prompts. I have had terrific pieces of writing that have come from using them. In fact, my middle grade fantasy project started from a prompt in a writing circle group. Writing a fantasy wasn’t even on my radar at that time. The right prompt at the right time can be powerful. Conversely, a prompt can also be a constricting influence on the imagination.

For the moment, peace reigns. A truce has been struck. Wild Child has taken control of the ideas and Miss Rule Follower is keeping track of the writing sessions. Each one has a role that suits her personality. It takes both imagination and discipline to be a writer. Sometimes I just need to remind myself that there is joy in the balance.