So, warm ups. A year or two ago I stumbled across a discussion via Metafandom (and why don't I ever save those links? Whyyyy?) about how to 'warm up' to a writing session, which I thought was pretty interesting. Freewrites are what I usually associate with warming up: spend fifteen minutes writing about bug-eyed sunglasses, or something that makes you angry, or someone you saw on your commute today. These were a staple of my creative writing program. I hated them all, across the board, not least because we always had to read aloud to the class afterward. The only thing I hate as much as public speaking is its close cousin, reading out loud from whatever is in front of you.
The OP came from a different background though: music. She said that a serious musician would practice four hours a day, and spend the first hour warming up with scales, the second hour doing something I don't recall, on and on until you get to the piece you're supposed to practice for a performance. (I may be getting this slightly wrong, but I don't have a link to go back to and check, sorry.) I do recall following a similar model when I was in music, but truncated, because I was not a professional and did not have the patience for four hours a day. Couldn't that model be adapted to writing? she asked, and went on to discuss what kinds of exercises or writing projects might constitute 'warming up' as compared to whatever your real project is.
Good question. For a while I was giving myself prompts inspired by the five things meme I've posted here a few times, in which I ask for a song quote, book title, color, emotion, and animal. It yields something like this:
1. I chased while I was young / Singing sweetly and faintly / A sadness of bright green / My fairytale
2. Eye of the Heron
5. Siamese cat
I keep a text file of these, and make new ones on occasion. Sticking to a theme is a huge challenge for me. I can usually use these two or three times and come up with completely different stories. Ideally, I should work on something like this for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then, once I'm over the hurdle of starting (which can be extremely hard some days), I can get to my real work.
That never happens. I spend so much time on the warm up that it becomes my project. And this isn't a bad thing, exactly; it means I have more stories to work with, refine, squish together, and play with. It also means I never get back to what I was supposed to be doing in the first place. The project I'm supposedly working on these days is on draft six, but it's been a while since I looked at the thing because I became obsessed with a dragon story spawned during one of these warmup, and then another idea after that, and another one. So I tried going back to old assignments. That's always a winner, right? You get to practice specific skills and stuff! But that gets boring fast - or it's just time-consuming, because most of those exercises involve taking the time to read something twice before even starting to write. I have to be in the mood for that. Or desperate.
Then, magically, I was reminded of something: notebooks! Natalie Goldberg sings their praises throughout Writing Down the Bones. Most of my stories are typed, so I didn't give it much thought.
However, about two weeks ago, an old college friend stayed with us, and this topic came up. He's an artist, trained in animation and illustration in the same program my husband attended. Naturally, he had sketchbooks with him. But the interesting thing was, he'd decided to designate topics to his sketchbooks: this one is for mermaids, that one is for aliens, the green one is for animal sketches. He had a stack of them in his luggage - Moleskines, if you're interested, all clearly labeled and stacked in a crate.
For some reason, I never thought about doing this for writing warm-ups. Writing by hand takes longer and eventually makes my hand hurt, so I prefer to type instead. But wouldn't that be perfect for warming up? Writing by hand involves bending over the table (or a pillow, or the nightstand) and generally doing things bad for my back or neck. I can't work too long if I don't want something to start aching, because I'm old and decrepit. Built-in time limit, woo!
The date at the front of my current notebook is 08.11.09. I've been jotting down notes, outlines, and ideas in the same spiral-bound notebook for three years - an SF State 2-subject notebook that I probably purchased just after I graduated. That's a long time to be hanging around the same stack of paper. Maybe I should try to go through at least four between now and next September. At least. Apart from this project, I mean.
Right now I'm debating how to theme my notebooks, because I like that idea. Picking one up and realizing I can only write about mermaids today cuts down on time wasted making decisions about what to write, which is stupid to linger on when you're supposed to be warming up. You know what you want to write: Real Project #3. This freewrite nonsense is supposed to loosen you up so the white space on the page doesn't scare you, or something.
I usually don't have problems with blank pages or text files. My issues start way before that stage of the process. :P
Anyway, I don't know how I want to split it up. Genre, in the fanfic sense? (eg. action/adventure, romance, historical.) Or maybe type of inspiration - Japanese mythology, Jewish tales, Norse mythology? Or types of subjects, like our friend did: angels, elves, and all that, in my case. Or SF/ fantasy / steampunk / myth-based. I CAN'T DECIDE. I think the first set might not work very well because "genre" is too big to be encompassed in a fifteen minute scribble, but the effectiveness of the others depends on how much I want to restrict my choices when it's time to write.
I'm thinking either the mythology or sub-genre sets. Maybe I can set aside a folder for each sub-genre (SF, fantasy, steampunk, myth) and then keep the different mythological inspirations as secondary prompts? Write a steampunk ficlet with a side of Norse gods! Or something.
Well, at least I've narrowed it down.