Once, in another life – one that I have gladly escaped – I was a bookkeeper.
I had intended to go all the way to become a fully qualified accountant but when I started learning the loopholes of the tax law, I knew it wasn’t for me. It was during this time in my life that I became acquainted with the term “Cooking the books”.
I still ‘cook the books’ but it has nothing to do with tax law loopholes these days. It does, however, have an awful lot to do with words. One word at a time. Words become sentences. Sentences become paragraphs. Paragraphs become chapters. Chapters become stories. Stories become books. Hopefully.
Before I give you ingredient lists, tidbits and tastes, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine.
This friend of mine bakes. She’s a mighty fine baker too. She’s the Cupcake Queen in our area. Whenever she’s stressed or emotional, bummed or ecstatic…she bakes.
She tells me that she likes baking because there’s a method. You add this amount of this to that, a dash of this and an egg or two. Follow the recipe and you’ve got yourself a cake.
Obviously she’s never baked in my kitchen.
There is one large difference between her baking and mine. She does it nearly every week, maybe twice a week if her cupcake loving friends are lucky.
I bake hmm…well, I think the last time I cleaned my oven I had cobwebs. (Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.)
I prefer non-cooking items like cheesecake slices and coffee jelly.
In short the difference between her baking and mine is…practice. It’s the same with anything in life. If you want to get good at it…practice. No one is going to be able to pick up a violin and play a Vivaldi concerto first attempt. At least I never did. It takes years of practice.
If you want to be able to write…you got it…practice.
Practice involves one word at a time. Of course it would be wonderful if every time I sat at the computer, or with a notepad and pen, that a complete story comes rushing out of my fingertips like a Niagara falls deluge. Unfortunately, this is real life and it never happens that way. So this is where the practice comes in.
The thing is, practicing doesn’t have to be boring. Same as Shakespeare doesn’t have to be boring, just ask Baz Luhrmann or Kenneth Branagh, or the BBC about their ‘Shakespeare Retold’ series.
Some people just make it boring. (No English teachers will be named here…you know who you are.)
Practicing is easy when you have characters chatting in your head like some sort of New Years Eve crowd. Practice is easy when the story comes flowing from your fingers like a bed-time-story-spell-casting witch. Practice isn’t so easy when you stare at your screen or page with…nothing. No characters, no plot…just a white page of…nothing. I suppose that would be alright if your favourite colour was white, at least you’ll be getting something out of it.
But white isn’t my favourite colour and I despise a blank page. I want to get something down on it.
So, using a computer or a notepad and pen as your method, here are a few ‘recipes’ of mine that I use for ‘cooking the books’.
- Take a scene from a book you like (or one of your own stories) and re-write it from another character’s Point of View.
- Sit on a street bench, close your eyes and describe what is going on around you without your sight. (Pad and pen or the ability to touch-type is useful with this one)
- Find a friend and write a Line by Line story. Your friend writes a line or paragraph, and hands the story to you. You write a line or paragraph and hand it back…and so on and so on. (Have two stories on the go at once, so one of you isn’t sitting there staring into space as you wait.)
- Look at a picture or photograph and describe what could have been happening.
- Pick three items at random (or have a friend do it). Write a short story which includes those three items.
- Write down about ten lines of dialogue from a book you like (or one of your own stories), remove all characters and description. Using the dialogue, write a completely different scene.
- Take a minor character from a book you like (or one of your own stories) and create a background/history for this character.
- Free Writing. Yes, I’m not a fan of this one, and I’ll do all of the other ideas first if I can get away with it, but it does have it’s uses and some amazing things come out of it. Set yourself a timer or word limit and just write. No editing, no rewriting, no expecting greatness. Just write.
Practice…you can turn it into a game and – gasp; horror – have some fun with it.
And out of curiosity, I’ve listed a few of my practice ideas – do you have any? Comments appreciated below..