Freewriting from the first writing prompt I found with a random Google search: “What painting would you like to step into?”
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
In my life, I’ve been lucky enough to witness a great many celestial wonders. On a camping trip in northern Minnesota, I watched aurora borealis greens and golds and pinks swirl across the sky like psychedelic cream poured into a cup of black tea. As a teenager, I saw shooting stars streak across the night sky at a rate of thousands per hour, a true meteor storm that comes only once every several decades. And rarity of rarities, I’ll never forget that black night in the middle of the afternoon when I stood in the shadow of the moon during a total solar eclipse.
But this? Fantastic whirpools, rivers, waves of light cascading across the midnight blue sky. Currents and eddies flowing with and against each other. And the moon—O swollen moon, an overripe lemon that would burst if only you could touch it. A blinding crescent, shining out and piercing your soul, floating above like a benevolent Eye of Sauron.
I picked my way down the broken hillside, itself glowing a dull but eldritch blue, magical-by-association via reflection from the otherworldly heavens. I looked for my house in the town below. There it was, like a cerulean Jack-o-lantern, a welcoming yellow light leaking out the front window to contrast the blue raining down from above. Next to it, the church dominated the landscape, its steeple poking the sky like a syringe, taking a sample from the cold-blooded firmament.
The path below me grew rough and unstable, scree threatening to give way under my feet. Reluctantly drawing my gaze away from the wonders above, I chose each footstep carefully, looking for the best purchase in the dim light.
It was then I saw the trail of blood. In the blue light, it looked black as tar, but the pattern of fat droplets and splatterings left no doubt what it was. Staying put amongst the loose gravel, I followed the blood with my eyes as it led off the trail to a small rocky ledge. Despite the precariousness of my position, I gingerly stepped off the trail and made my way onto the ledge.
And there, in a black tarry pool, it lay: a man’s ear, still wet with blood.
I don’t really have a writing problem. I have a plotting problem. Make me sit down and write for an hour, I can usually kick-start myself and write something. But whether it’s a coherent part of something bigger, or just a thousand words of gibberish, is often debatable. So often I simply don’t write, because I feel (rightly or not) that it’s a waste of time if I’m not progressing toward a finished product.
I’ve always been a “pantser”—a writer who writes by the seat of his pants, rather than in adherence to an outline. I’ve completed two feature-length screenplays and a handful of short stories that way. And it’s hard. Yes, you can walk around the entire planet, but how much harder on yourself do you make it by abandoning map and compass?
So as I prep to write my first novel, I’m finally outlining first. (I should say, “as I prep to finish my first novel; I’ve “pantsed” half of one already, an approach on which I blame its stalled and unfinished nature.) One outlining technique I’ve found useful so far is a nuts-and-bolts method of taking total target word count and breaking it down by average word count of scenes. This gives me a total target number of scenes, which I can further organize by act. This way, I have a good general idea of how many scenes I need to write to get to point A, point B and so on. And the target word count per scene gives me a goal for each writing session.
Here are a couple of articles I found useful for this approach:
Plotting a Novel By the Numbers (Live Write Breathe)
How Long Should a Scene in a Novel Be? (BeKindRewrite)
I look at it this way: I’m a landlord, and I’m building a furnished apartment building that I want fully occupied. How can I get there if I don’t know how many rooms I have to furnish or how many tenants I need to fill the place?