02 May 2012

Writing with Limits

I don't know about you, but my imagination factory loves limits, rules, boundaries, specificities. On any given week, if my core notion is "this week I want to write a story," I often falter, or the story can take forever to shape up.

Give me the weirdest, most specific call for stories, though, and my imagination jumps right on that. Appalacian pulp? Great. Steampunk Cthulhu? Fabulous. Fungi? Awesome. (Okay, I missed the deadline on the fungi anthology, but I'll bet there will be some super cool stories in there.)

Coral Fungi

Are you this kind of writer? You'll know you are if you have a hard time reading the "do not want" lists that some magazines create. I know where editors are coming from. They've seen too many stories about lusty pirates or rapist-murderer-cannibals. Yeah, incestuous princess molestation is probably unpleasant to read about. (I am a little bit surprised to see it come up on a list of "stories we see too often." People are sick.) I guess it's a bit of a cliché for a scientist to use himself as an experimental subject (although one based in a long, hallowed tradition straight from crazytown). 

Maybe it's the contrarian in me, but when I read lists like this, I WANT TO WRITE STORIES BASED ON THE DON'Ts. My mind immediately starts grinding on the question of how to turn those stories into something wonderful and original. Yeah? You think you've seen too many lusty pirates? I'm gonna pirate lust so much your head will spin! And you'll like it.


This is the second year I've done Story a Day in May. I've been wondering why it is that at any other time of year, I can drag out a story-a-week writing challenge to two, three, and four weeks, but as I type this I'm poised to bang out my second story in two days. Why does my imagination factory work so well when pushed to an extreme?

My guess is that a short time frame is just another type of limit. I've spent some time getting ready for this, mind you. I've got my prompts lined up. At the end of each day, I say to myself, "okay, tomorrow you're going to write about that dream you had where you donated part of your spine to become merged with other people's body parts into a super being." (For real that is today's prompt.) As I'm drifting off to sleep the night before, I try to come up with some kind of a beginning, middle and end, and I reshape the specifics of the story to give it some edges and features. Then I tell myself I've got one day to write it.

There's something invigorating about knowing that whatever happens, it will be done and I'll be moving on by the end of the day. (I'm talking first draft. Polishing will come later - after May, probably.)

Do you use limits to your advantage?  


Esther Jones said...

This is so me. I work best with prompts and time limits. I think it's because when I don't have limits, I don't have to work, so I get distracted. Maybe it's also because of all the training on writing to a deadline all through school

Anonymous said...

I write best with a prompt! So I know exactly what you mean. Looking forward to seeing some of your story-a-day stories!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I ended up signing up for Story A Day after reading about it here the other day. I have no plan and am pretty much winging it (so unlike me!) BUT I wrote two stories, so I'm on track so far. :)

I'm usually up for a good prompt or challenge - the limited word count is one of the reasons I love flash and micro fiction. :)

Amanda Heitler said...

Speaking as a non-writer, all the above is true for preparing workshops, scenes and bits of plot for games. Tight deadlines, prompts and limitations are all very good carrots.

Deborah Walker said...

Yes! I'm currently working to an anthology deadline for tomorrow. I only started yesterday. note: this is not good practice, but it's working for me.