Thursday, February 18, 2010

Take Twelve

Here’s the best piece of writing advice I’ve heard in a long time: no matter how busy, tired, overwhelmed, sick, depressed, swamped, apathetic, or blocked you are, just write twelve lines. That’s all. Just twelve. But write those twelve lines no matter what.

I love this tip because not only does it work to help keep my WIP in shape in spite of a crummy day, but it’s saved me from feeling that much sicker, more depressed, or more swamped during the times I would previously have thought writing one word was impossible.

Once I started using this technique I discovered I couldn’t stop; even on the good days I began to learn new uses for just twelve sentences. Best of all, the very nature of “write only 12” made my writer self turn all rebellious and eager to keep writing, going for twelve paragraphs or even twelve pages simply to prove I could.

Now I find myself using this trick several times during the day (or night!) regardless of a jammed appointment book or time constraints. Favorite uses of it so far include:

Brainstorming. List 12 “what-ifs” for problematic scenes or chapters. 12 possible actions to include in scene or chapter. 12 lines of dialogue. 12 specific details. 12 character traits. 12 possible character goals or motivations. 12 marketing opportunities. 12 positive affirmations to keep writing. 12 things to add to my gratitude list. 12 possible titles for the WIP. 12 ideas to blog or tweet about. 12 points to cover in a new blog post. 12 points about a book I liked, loved, or hated for review. 12 writing prompts for writer’s group.

Flash fiction or freewriting. Write: a 12-line story. A 12-line poem. A 12- line screenplay. A 12-line letter to the editor.

Why limit the technique to writing when I’m pressed for time? What about: 12 rows of knitting; 12 lines to a drawing; 12 quick photos; 12 magazine cutouts ready for collage.

There’s something special about the number twelve: twelve months to the year, twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve dancing princesses… It’s a number that resonates deep in our creative and cultural unconscious. Which is why it may be the perfect number for getting something done when you feel at your most lost.

Tip of the Day: The easiest way to write just 12 on a bad or any day is to get your notebook, number the lines 1-12 with about 3-4 spaces in between and keep that page open beside you at all times. Every chance you get, write down a line. Don’t worry about making sense or keeping your thoughts “in order.” Fill in the blanks and rearrange or use where you can later.

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