My 7-day writing challenge
Hey guys, I hope you are all having a decent week! Seven days ago I challenged myself to write a little something once per day for a whole week, and today I thought I'd share my scribbles with you. Despite working on a novel, I sometimes wonder if I could do more to actually refine my writing skills. It's natural to lean towards a particular style and voice but I think as a creatives it's important to sometimes step out of our comfort zones and experiment with new things - you never know what you might find! I have a book called '642 Things to Write About' and it was put together by The San Francisco Writers' Grotto. In the introduction, Po Bronson talks about how in 24 hours, without any advance notice, the book was written, and how tens upon hundreds of people contributed to the ideas inside the pages. He says, 'I tell this story because it's a lesson in hidden potential. You never know what might happen. In a single day, if you hit the right nerve, you could have something - maybe it's the start of something, maybe it's the whole thing...You just have to get creative and plunge in.'
The 642 prompts vary in length and detail, so I tried to make this challenge for myself as varied as possible. Enjoy! 1. Put your iPod on random shuffle, write down the lyric of the first song that comes on, and use it as an opening line.
Shawn Mendes – Fallin’ All In You
‘Sunrise with you on my chest’
Sunrise with you on my chest – this is how I’ve started each day for a while. The day starts with the sun, and I start by realising I’d fallen asleep the night before, mid-sentence. Obviously I have no trouble sleeping, so if somebody asked me for advice on winding down quickly and effectively each evening, I’d recommend reading a book, any book. I go to bed early and wake up early. Probably what everyone aspires to.
I often wonder how I’ve managed to stay in the same position for the whole night, and I think maybe I know deep-down that you’ve soothed me to sleep, meaning I couldn’t just roll over and crush you. That’d be terrible. I used to roll over all the time, whacking my husband in the face – do you remember him? I’m pretty sure you were still around when, you know, he was around. I used to toss and turn all night long. Now I don’t even twitch. I mean, I can only assume. There’s no-one else around to confirm this suspicion. Only me and you. ‘Beautiful British Birds’ – I won’t lie, I didn’t peruse the bookshelf before tugging you from it. It was just a spur-of-the-moment decision. I guess I just needed distraction each night, because if I sit, staring into space, aware of my thoughts, they’ll get the better of me. It’s quite ironic really, because now I’m talking to a book. 2. Write a letter to a child explaining how to do one thing (for example, ride a horse or throw a punch.)
Thanks so much for your letter and Happy Birthday! Wow! Seven is great age. Moving onto two syllables is a pretty big deal, so make sure you do this year justice.
My first instinct was to congratulate you and your family, but I realise that probably isn’t what you want to hear. Most of the time, having a baby is a fantastic thing and something to celebrate, but I can totally understand why it would make you angry and even a bit anxious. Unfortunately, the answer to your question is also not what you will want to hear. There is in fact no fool proof way to stop your Mummy from having a little girl or another little boy. A lot of women use the phrase ‘bun in the oven’ to describe the fact that they are pregnant. It’s a great metaphor (you’ll learn about metaphors at some point in school.) Think of your sibling as exactly that – a little uncooked pastry. Now, if you were cross because your Mummy didn’t realise you weren’t hungry, you could take the pastry out of the oven, but by this point the pastry would be neither raw nor cooked and therefore a total waste. I’m sure your Mummy or Daddy have told you about how bad it is to waste things. I would suggest waiting until the baby is ready to come out and deciding for yourself whether you like it or not.
This might all be a little hard to swallow, so I thought I’d make you feel better by answering a different question. How can I make sure Mummy pays more attention to me than my younger sibling? Toby, this is what you call the game of life. A lot of bad and annoying things will happen to you, and the trick is to figure out a way of jumping over the hurdles (do you like watching sport on TV?) Lots of people use the phrase ‘mind over matter’ to describe this.
1. Make sure you outperform your little brother or sister in every possible way. You need to show Mummy and Daddy that you are the better child. Now, there is every possibility that you and / or your sibling were accidents, in which case there will be many times when your parents get super angry and say things like, ‘I didn’t ask for this crap’, but you need to show them why you were worth it. Always pay attention in school, work really hard to get the best possible grades and learn lots of non-academic skills, such as painting and gymnastics. There’s nothing worse than a talentless kid, so make sure you practise, practise, practise. Parents love to compare children and boast about their talents, so make sure you give Mum and Dad enough good things to say at community barbecues. Don’t attempt to sabotage your younger sibling’s efforts, because this is a waste of time and will only draw bad attention to yourself.
2. Be as helpful as possible. Bringing up children is no easy task, and parents deserve to be rewarded for their efforts. If you can do the dishes without having been asked first or put away your toys straight after you’ve finished using them, you will earn endless brownie points. Sneak into your little brother or sister’s room and mess it up a little. Keep your room spotless, but not too spotless. You want to make sure you are highlighting your creative endeavours. This just means that you can be a little messy as long as it is in the name of art or homework. You have an advantage because you are the older child, and automatically more responsible. Your younger sibling will no doubt be made to look up to you, which is a good thing, I promise. It’s okay to hate their guts – think about all the powerful dictators in history! Sorry, you won’t, in fact, have heard of any, but basically it’s possible to exert control over people you really don’t like and have them obey your commands.
3. On that note, make sure you are consistently nice towards your sibling. Here’s another phrase for you: ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ You need to gain their trust so you know how to exploit them. When both of you are older and your younger sibling goes through a rebellious phase and starts blaming all the family members for messing up his or her life, you will be able to stand up and say, ‘I’ve done nothing but protect, support and comfort you.’ Your parents will agree, and will mutter something along the lines of, ‘Toby was never like this, thank God.’
If you follow these instructions I can assure you that everything will be okay. Now, this is a long-term project, so you may not see the results until you are an adult. Sometimes in life, Toby, we have to be patient. If all else fails and things get really bad, you could always take your little pastry for a walk and then throw it in a ditch. But make sure you tell your Mummy it was an accident.
Uncle Raisin 3. Write a bathroom wall limerick.
There once was a man on the loo
He had only just finished his poo
He stood up much too fast
And looked down, aghast
His mobile had fallen in, too. 4. Never underestimate the lives of old men sitting on park benches. Ainsley Timkiss, gnarled fingers laced together, watched as the little girl clutched her ice cream with a sense of intense responsibility. She waddled along, her tongue sticking out, and Ainsley turned his head to share a smile with Jin-Woo. The latter took one last puff of his cigarette and then threw it onto the ground, crushing it with his shoe. “Every time I see a child I feel guilty,” he said to Ainsley. His dry, raspy voice gave the impression of an imminent sneeze, but Jin-Woo had simply smoked too many cigarettes in his lifetime. His teeth were small kernels of corn, his skin a brown, aged leather. Ainsley, in contrast, was naturally pale and hairy; you could count the number of veins in his body. “Waste of a good fag, that,” Ainsley said, though he had given up a long time ago after losing Lizzie. Jin-Woo glanced down at the concrete, then watched as the family trailed away. “Godawful weather we’ve had recently,” Ainsley mused. “Nice to finally see some sunshine, eh?” “Reckon it’ll only last a couple of days,” Jin-Woo said, fumbling in his pocket for a stick of chewing-gum. “As long as it doesn’t piss it down, we’ll be alright.” Ainsley frowned, watching Jin-Woo’s mechanical jaw. “Bet Ruth hates that more than she hates the smoking,” Ainsley commented. “She hates a lot of things but she sticks around, alright,” Jin-Woo responded, his face lighting up with mirth. It was when he laughed that Jin-Woo truly resembled an old oak tree, the creases in his skin tugging at his eyes and his mouth. Ainsley gave a chuckle. “Where can she go at this age?” Jin-Woo said. “You’re right about that one, Jinny.” They laughed some more. The day was nice and warm but the breeze was cool; the trees shook and insects whizzed past, busy as ever. The park was a pleasant resting spot for the old men, because things stayed the same. Each day was a repetition of the last. The same joggers jogging, the same families frolicking, the same bugs buzzing around, never stopping, always going. In contrast, Ainsley and Jin-Woo were more than content with the static, the tranquillity of simply existing. After a lifetime of ups and downs, twists and turns, the park bench was the most alluring place to be. Jin-Woo – when he did think back to escaping the Korean civil war as a child – felt content in the knowledge that he was safe on the park bench, and Ainsley, too, was rid of the family feuds and the illness that had torn his previous life apart. The sun was shining and he was having a roast that evening, so all was well. “Absolutely livid, she was,” Jin-Woo was saying, and Ainsley was chuckling. “I told her that she was always welcome, that she always had been welcome since you and me and Dom started up the poker parties.” “Mmm.” “She didn’t want to hear any of it. She said I was too senile to be staying up all night. I asked her if I was too senile to be holidaying in the Bahamas with my wife. She said, ‘have you booked something, then?’ I said, ‘I was thinking about it but it’s not looking very fucking likely anymore.’” The two men guffawed. As they did so, Ainsley noticed a young, gangly man making his way nervously towards them. Their laughter eventually drifted away with the breeze. The young man edged closer, his face solemn. He glanced around and then gave a tight-lipped smile as he approached the bench. “Hi, sorry to bother you,” the man said, leaning forward and shifting from one foot to the other, “I’m not sure I’ve got the right bench. I was expecting to meet-” “Alright, son?” Ainsley’s eyes shrunk as he smiled. “Seventy,” Jin-Woo said, leaning forward, hands clasped together. The man looked around hesitantly, then fumbled for his wallet. “Well, sit down then,” said Ainsley, nodding to the empty space at the end of the bench. “Not very candid, are you?” The man, a tad flabbergasted, obediently perched. He looked Jin-Woo and Ainsley up and down. “Fag?” Jin-Woo asked, offering him the box. “No, thanks,” the man said, pursing his lips. “I actually just came for the-” “What’s your name, son?” said Ainsley.
The man looked at him.
“Uh…it’s Tom.” He scratched the back of his head.
“Tom,” grunted Ainsley. “Short for Thomas?”
There was a pause.
“Uh, yes,” said Tom.
There was another pause.
“Sorry if this sounds, uh…” Tom began. “I actually didn’t expect you to be, well, um…senior citizens.”
The men laughed. Tom attempted to laugh with them.
“Heard it all before,” Ainsley said. “You know, my brother was called Tom. Couldn’t stand the bugger.”
Ainsley stared at a black Labrador some metres away. The dog had found an interesting scent and was nosing its way through the grass. Jin-Woo suddenly spat his chewing gum onto the floor.
“Loses its taste so quickly,” he muttered, shaking his head. Tom glanced at the two men, then at his feet.
“Seventy, did you say?” asked Tom, though he was fully aware of the price.
“For one gram, yeah,” Jin-Woo grunted.
“What do you do, Tom?” Ainsley wanted to know.
Tom surreptitiously removed the wallet from his pocket and began leafing through banknotes.
“I’m an accountant,” he replied.
Both men nodded slowly and thoughtfully.
“A numbers man,” said Ainsley. "Well, trust me, this is the best you'll get."
Tom made a sound of acquiescence and handed over the money. Jin-Woo slipped him the bag of cocaine.
“What about your colleagues?” Ainsley said, watching as Tom swiftly hid the bag.
“Oh, I’m actually freelance,” Tom explained, rising from the bench nonchalantly.
Ainsley furrowed his eyebrows, nodded and then turned his attention back to the Labrador.
“Was nice to meet you, Tom,” said Jin-Woo.
“Yeah…nice to meet you too,” Tom replied. From his expression it seemed he was having trouble deciding between a smile and a frown. He scratched the back of his head again. “Been around for a while, then?”
“Partners for longer than you’ve been alive, son,” Ainsley said, glancing at his old pal with reverence. “Oldest fuckers in the game.”
“Wow,” said Tom, with genuine awe. “Do you…um…”
“Don’t worry,” said Jin-Woo. “The cops wouldn’t dare. They’d only be wasting their time.”
“Jinny’s got a point,” said Ainsley. He jerked his thumb to the left. “I reckon this bugger’s only got a couple months before his lungs give out.”
“It’s true,” Jin-Woo croaked.
“Shit,” said Tom, nodding earnestly. “Well. Enjoy your…time. Sorry, yeah.”
“It’s not all bad once you get to this age,” Ainsley said, winking. “Take care, Tom.”
He raised his hand in a wave. Tom did the same, then spun around and half-jogged back the way he came, slightly dazed. Meanwhile, Jin-Woo had donned a pair of spectacles and was squinting at the small screen of his ancient Nokia.
“Seems like a nice lad,” said Ainsley. “Freelance accountant. Didn’t really…hmm.”
“I can’t keep up with the times,” said Jin-Woo. “Get this. Dom’s just bought ten litres of Yamazaki back from Japan.”
“Pull the other one!”
“That’s our weekend sorted…”
“You’ll send Ruth to hospital one of these days, Jinny.”
5. What can happen in a second
Recognition, that moment of dawning. A surge of the heart, in shock or passion. Maybe neither, maybe no surging at all, just recognition. And then everything shifts, like the earth’s tectonic plates nudging up against each other. A moment ago they were not in the forefront of your mind – they were buried deep in its crevices. In a second they burst forth like sunlight streaming through blinds. That can never be unseen. Now you go forward. Now what?
6. You’re having lunch with a friend. Your friend gets a call in the middle of the meal. Write just your friend’s part of the conversation.
“Sorry, darling, I should probably take this,” Minerva says. Her forehead is lined. She makes a point of sighing and then answers the phone, fork still in hand.
I take a large mouthful of moussaka. It’s piping-hot and my eyes stream.
“Yes, I know that, that’s why I answered.”
I can’t tell if this is sarcastic or not.
“I’m having lunch with an old friend. How did it go?”
I chew the enormous portion, feeling the top layer of my tongue sizzling. Minerva’s eyes dart back and forth as she listens.
“Oh, for god’s sake.”
The fork comes down onto the plate with a clatter. Minerva leans back in her chair. Then she leans forward.
“Did you…how long have you been in there for? I mean, how long has it been since he came back? Minutes? Hours?...Glad to know you’ve still got a few brain cells left. How long?” She looks at her plate, lips tightening. “Fuck.”
Minerva’s eyes meet mine and she shakes her head. I’m so sorry, she mouths. I shake my head, too, still chewing ferociously. There is lava inside my mouth and I’m sure my face has gone bright red.
“I don’t understand. He’s meant to be driving up to Bristol…What I want to know is what’s going through his head, what made him…well, maybe – we just don’t know.” Minerva brings her free hand up to rub her temple. “Okay, there’s no point mulling over that. What did you do with the letters?”
I finish torturing my jaw and take a gulp of water. I’m trying not to listen, but it’s near impossible.
“Please tell me you’re joking.” Her voice is quiet, exasperation and anger rubbing shoulders. She leans back again. “What’s wrong with you? I expected you to at least, I don’t know, stash them…What do you mean you don’t know?”
I look down at my lap.
“You should probably get comfortable there, Raymond. You won’t want to deal with me, let me tell you that.” Her eyes are wide. “But seriously, what’s your plan? You know you might have to stay overnight…Yes…Wait until tomorrow morning, when everyone’s gone to work…Well, what the fuck do you expect me to say?” Minerva’s palm is outstretched, waiting for a valid point to fall into it.
“I’m not helping you…No…No, I don’t care, Raymond...No, what are you talking about? Don’t you dare do that; you’ve been just as angry as I have from the very beginning. Don’t make it seem like I forced you into this.”
I rootle around in my bag for precisely nothing.
“I’m assuming you don’t have your asthma pump with you.” Minerva’s eyes are stagnant, lids droopy. “Shhhh! Can you…ugh, d’you know what, this phone call is ridiculous and you are going to be arrested.”
My rootling slows. Minerva’s hand is on her head.
“How about not let it happen in the first place? Jesus Christ.”
Minerva brings her hand down onto the table with a weak thump.
“I don’t know, Raymond, just let me know once you get yourself out of this predicament…Yeah, I’ve got kids, too, darling – am I supposed to be sympathetic? Text your wife. Tell her it’s an emergency, because it is.”
Minerva leans forward, shuffling her shoulders. She holds up five fingers and is grateful for my nonchalance.
“And yes, in the meantime, figure out what you’re going to do. For god’s sake, Raymond,” Minerva sits up straight, hand on hip. “Not only are you stuck in there but this was a colossal waste of time. No common sense, nothing. Now those letters will get binned. You do realise you’ve opened up a can of worms?”
She is shaking her head in disbelief. I’m staring at her. I think about how she’s much more glamorous than she used to be, much sharper.
“You can keep saying that but it’s not going to change anything, Raymond. Look, just…” She trails off, closing her eyes for a moment. “I need to get back to my lunch. This is incredibly rude of me.”
I realise she has directed this at me and my eyebrows shoot up, nonchalance assumed once again.
“I know that. I’m not entrusting you to do anything like this again. Well. Nothing like this will be happening again anyway, because we have to lie low from now on.”
She looks up at the ceiling.
“I don’t even know if it’s worth it anymore. Oh, god. I’m just a bitter middle-aged woman, aren’t I?”
She’s shaking her head. Again, I’m unsure if this is sarcastic or not.
“No, never mind, we’ll have to talk about this later. I can’t even begin to get into that right now. I need to think. In fact, brainstorm possible next steps while you’re trapped in that shoe cupboard, there’s something for you to do.”
I don’t know if it’s a smile but her facial features seem to rearrange begrudgingly.
“I’m not laughing, Raymond. Stop raising your voice, unless you want to explain all this to the police. Be careful. I’m going now.” She parts her lips and rolls her eyes. “I’m going now, Raymond. I look forward to hearing from you.”
She hangs up.
“Darling, I am so sorry,” she says, staring at her phone for a second and then depositing it into the Céline handbag nestled between her feet. “Honestly, I don’t know how I stay sane. It’s one thing after the next.” For a second she zones out, somewhat fearful and then cocks her head. I’ve just taken another bite of moussaka.
“How’s the food?”
I nod enthusiastically.
“I don’t eat much now. Too stressed. This looks lovely, though.”
She glances down at the limp salad. 7. Describe one physical change you would make to yourself if you could and how this would change your life. Like a character in a video game, I would swell and accumulate two inches of height. Oh, what those two inches could do! I might be able to finally reach the cinnamon on the top shelf of the spice cabinet, or successfully steal an enviable spot in the crowd at a festival. I wouldn’t need to worry about that afro of considerable size directly in front of me. With growth comes good fortune, and that couldn’t be truer of height. I could look someone in the eyes without tilting my head and feeling inadequate. I look down at someone and exert some authority. With longer legs, I might wear different things. Maybe I’d feel sexier, somewhat streamlined. Maybe I’d be cool rather than cute. Maybe I wouldn’t be the shortest in the group, despite being the oldest. Ah, to have some correlation! It would be nice. But would that mean my feet would have to grow, too?