Last Thursday, September 18, I posted “Tales of the Girl Group: the jolt, part 1,” about jolting two members of the Girl Group out of their book outlines and into their actual manuscripts. It was inadvertently easy: To get them moving, I gave them an assignment to write something playful, and as soon as they realized they didn’t want to do the assignment they got down to writing their books.
The point of a jolt is to move you from running in place to running. To kidnap you from writing that’s repetitive and going nowhere, and transport you to writing that has energy and substance. The deliberate writing kind of jolt (as opposed to the accidental jolt described above) turns you temporarily away from the work you’re not doing and gets you writing something completely different. It’s a little like taking a busman’s holiday, but more fun.
Jolts come in all sorts of forms, lengths, topics, and moods. What they have in common is that they’re not like the writing you’ve been doing. If you’re writing a memoir about your family, a jolt could be a short story or a poem. If you’re mired in a novel, a jolt could be a memory piece about your grandmother. If you’re working too hard on a collection of nonfiction essays, a jolt might be writing a fairy tale. Of course you can’t write something you’re completely unsuited to—poetry isn’t for everyone—but there’s always some new direction you can go, just for a short time.
20 J O L T S TO GET YOU GOING
- Write a dialogue between your parents. Not a dialogue you’ve actually heard—a dialogue you hope never to hear.
- Write a huge, screaming fight between two close friends. Do they get past it?
- Describe, in detail, a place you love. Invoke all your senses—but don’t explain why you love the place; that should be revealed in what you write about it.
- Write a one-act play.
- Write a short story in the genre of fantasy or science fiction.
- Describe the worst, most humiliating experience you had in high school.
- Write a short-short story about your favorite painting. The story behind the painting? Or the story that happens in front of the painting?
- Write a memory piece about a relative you love dearly. It should be so touching that you make yourself cry.
- Write a memory piece about a relative you loathe—no holds barred. Get enraged.
- Find a photograph you’ve never seen before, one you really like, and write a narrative about it.
- Take one paragraph from a story you wrote a while ago and expand it to ten pages.
- Write a short epistolary story. That means letters sent between characters, or letters sent by one person, which add up to a story.
- Tell about a sexual encounter—good, bad, or indifferent. Details, please.
- Invent three short poems about three times of the day. Make them work together.
- Write a children’s story you would have loved when you were five.
- Write a biting political satire.
- Describe the best meal you’ve ever had, where you had it, and with whom (if anyone).
- Tell a story about a journey—any kind of journey.
- Your beloved pet—need I say more?
- Write a song. Make it long.
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA
Full Circle Bookstore, Oklahoma City, OK
Diesel, a Book Store, Oakland, CA