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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The White Screen of Death

So, you’re in the mood to write a short story. You have your hot coffee within arm reach, and, if you’re like me among the dwindling minority of smokers (something’s going to kill me sooner or later, anyway), cigarettes. Should be easy to tap out the greatest whopper ever told.

Then you load Word and freeze at the sight of the white nothing. That blank doc, docx, or whatever electronic sheet just stares at you, waiting, maybe even mocks you: “Go ahead, O’Henry, fill me up with your brilliant prose, your delicious phrasing and your insightful characterizations. Give me dialogue so natural it makes me feel like I’m a part of the conversation and so deeply embedded in the plot that I would rather perish in my burning house than stop reading. Go ahead, punk. Make my day.”

Two cups of coffee and a half-pack of cigarettes (25 cents a piece for the cheapies in Pennsylvania), you begin to understand the deranged novelist in “The Shining”. You don’t type that two-word curse over and over and over again, but you want to. Don’t you?

You wimp. You no-talent and unimaginative phony. And you thought Stephen King was not fit to clean your nicotine-stained monitor.

“It was a dark and stormy night.” “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” “Little Cindy Lou Who, who was no more than two.”

That’s plagiarism, idiot!

Let The Robert give you some grownup advice, kid. Force yourself to write that first sentence. Go ahead, plagiarize the line if you have too—you can always edit it out later. Just get going, for it is the truth, from my experience, that it is that first sentence that opens the valve and releases the river of creativity and gets you to the next sentence, the one after that and the one after that. Soon, you’ll have a paragraph or two—maybe an entire page of words wrapped around an interesting plot you’d might never have thought of, otherwise. You may have to discard all you wrote, but the kernel of plot that remains will get you started again.

Now, start over with that plot in mind. Write that first original sentence. Everything falls into place from there. You will stop writing from time to time to consider or reconsider where the whole tale is going, but you will move it along to conclusion. All that will be left is the easy part: the editing.

This is the method I always use to produce short stories for the Circle 8 Writers Group short story/flash fiction/poetry anthologies. I had zero concept of what I was going to write until I forced the first sentence (Christina caressed her cheek with the glass of sweet tea.) of my short story that eventually became “Under The Tree That Owns Itself” for the upcoming “Mothers & Other Strangers” C8 anthology.

“Mothers & Other Strangers” will be released shortly before Mother’s Day 2011. Until then, all 4 previously released Circle 8 Writers Group short story/flash fiction/poetry anthologies can be located here in paperback or ebook:

The Robert