Ms. CF (a/k/a the control freak who rules my life) has been in my head a lot lately, making it hard to write. She and the rational side of my brain (let’s call him Mr. R) are besties. They love to commiserate about how to get me away from this writing…thing…and into something more practical and monetarily satisfying. Something safe. Something controllable.
With Ms. CF and Mr. R whispering in my head, I find myself questioning every word I put on the page, even when I write in my journals, where I’m supposed to be giving myself permission to be sloppy and creative and spontaneous. (“Spontaneous!” Ms. CF just sneered to Mr. R, who giggled. “As if she even knows what that means.”)
And so I’ve been turning to writing exercises, ones that can keep Ms. CF and Mr. R busy while the creative part of my brain charges ahead into some nonsensical, fun piece of writing that I never could have produced otherwise.
Which brings me to today’s offering.
This exercise is based on the writing prompt Little Words that Ann Patchett supplied for Round Four of NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction contest. Patchett challenged contestants to write a story under 600 words (commonly called a “short short story” or “flash fiction”) that included in any form the words “plant,” “button,” “trick,” and “fly.” According to Patchett, the beauty of this exercise is that writers can use these “dull little…everyday…words” in any form–noun, adjective, verb–as “little markers to go by, something to sort of occupy one side of your brain while the other side of your brain is being very creative…”
Her exercise generated some wonderful stories, including the winner, “Not Calling Attention to Ourselves” by Yoav Ben Yosef, and the runners-up.
This exercise has really stuck with me. I love the idea of using simple, everyday words to occupy Ms. CF and Mr. R (“Look at these silly little things – cute as buttons they are!”) and give the creative side some time to roam around and play. I’ve used this exercise in various forms several times myself and have gotten great results.
So here’s a variation on Ann Patchett’s Little Words exercise. To really occupy your own Ms. CFs and Mr. Rs (those assholes who so love to interfere), I’ve paired the 4 words with an image as well.
First, study the picture below and let your mind wander over what could be happening, what these kids could be doing, what led them to this place, what they might do later. Then set your timer for 20 minutes and scroll down for the 4 words to include in a story under 1,000 words (also considered a flash fiction piece).
Use any form of the words “tickle,” “press,” “flip,” and “bolt” in a 1,000 word story based on the picture above.
Start your timer. Ready, set, write!
Place here an image gallery shortcode (Add Media → Create Gallery) or video-page URL starting with http://