Last September we started our weekly Friday Writing Sprint posts as a brief way to take a break from thinking about the craft of writing and just spend a few minutes actually writing. The posts provided accountability (those who chose to could post the results of their writing sprints), motivation to get some words on the page, and helped make the normally solitary process of writing feel a little bit more like a community event.
Over time, the posts evolved into our current Random Word Improv exercises. Sometimes we start with a set of truly random words, sometimes with a particular theme, and occasionally with a random phrase thrown in for good measure. Regardless of what we start with the goal is the same: to provide a creative writing jump-start. It’s a way to have some fun playing with words without the (often) paralyzing thinking about goal, motivation, conflict, character arc, and all those other craft elements that can sometimes get in the way of just trying to tell a story.
I look forward to the Friday posts and the chance to play with the story that I’ve been building with all of those random words. I find myself spending far more time thinking about my “random” story and adding bits and pieces to it, than I do t my “real” work-in-progress which, sadly, has been languishing in recent weeks.
I thought about that and came up with a few reasons why that is:
Telling a story with the random words each Friday doesn’t feel like work, it feels like fun. That’s true, in part, because I’m approaching it as something fun that I want to do, rather than something that I have to do in order to reach “The End.” Treating it as play instead of work takes away the pressure to produce and leaves the fun part, the actual joy of creating something out of nothing. My challenge now is to take that feeling of play time and figure out how to apply it to my current WIP.
I don’t like my improv characters Cassie and Nicolai better than my Regency characters Michael and Abigail or my contemporary couple Maddie and Sam, but they’re more fun to work with because I’m only trying to move them through a single scene (or piece of a scene). Over time those scenes may build into a complete story, but for each Friday, I have a short term goal that can be achieved in a few hundred words or so. I’m not trying to write War and Peace, I’m just trying to figure out how to incorporate as many of the random words as possible into a cohesive piece. Being able to achieve that goal keeps the writing process fun and makes me want to keep writing. There’s no reason I can’t look at my own WIP in the same way. I may be running a marathon there, not a sprint, but there is no reason I can’t break it into smaller, more manageable pieces, rather than keeping my eyes on that distant mile marker.
Friday’s random words and random themes also provide an opportunity to play with different writing voices and genres. Results in our comments section have included fairy tales, mysteries, historical, paranormal, noir, dystopian, and more. Writing something just for fun can be very freeing and can actually help spark new ideas and new ways of looking at other pieces we’re working on. I’m thinking of using Friday’s random words, along with the current scene I’m (not) working on in my WIP to see if I can spark some creative ways to move the story forward.
One of the biggest reasons why my improv writing feels so much easier than my WIP writing is that on Fridays, I’m not focused on getting my story (or scene) perfect; instead I’m just focused on getting it on the page. I typically look at the words, brainstorm phrases or sentences or bits of dialog that incorporates them, and then I figure out how to link it all together. I’m not drawing a conflict box or thinking about writing rules, I’m just playing with words. My internal editor is silent and perfection isn’t even on the radar. That’s definitely something I’m struggling to figure out how to do with my WIP.
So, have you given Random Word Improv a try? If so, do you think it has made any difference in your writing? If not, what other ways have you found to add a little fun to your writing practice?