Slap! Assigned Writing

Absolute Blank

By Mollie Savage (Bonnets)

Assigned writing. Do thoughts of ugh, yipes or never again run through your mind?

At some point in our lives, in school and possibly at work, we have all been asked to write about a topic that hasn’t carried much interest for us or was so overwhelming that it seemed like drudge work. Remember all those ‘boring’ reports and essays you had to write in school? Have you ever considered entering a writing contest, like those we sponsor at Toasted Cheese, read the topic and said to yourself, “Yipes, I couldn’t write about questioning authority in 48 hours to save my life.” This is about how to get beyond the notion that assigned writing is work, and discover ways to enjoy and effectively write about anything.

I remember an assignment in junior high, “Write your autobiography.” I’m sure I wrote something extremely boring, beginning with “I was born in Michigan.” My best friend Nancy, however, began hers with, “Slap! I entered the world screaming and haven’t stopped making noise since.” I wish I could tell you the rest of what she wrote but that was over 30 years ago. That opening line, well, who wouldn’t remember that?

Nancy took a fresh, vibrant approach to her assignment. Having fun and successfully writing something assigned is about excavating beyond the rubble of what you think is expected and writing about the unexpected.

Consider a short story contest with the theme natural disaster. You may think of an earthquake, for example, but take that notion beyond an earthquake and write about what might feel like an earthquake. A car rams into a house shaking it, two teenagers are having sex, the girl freaks, “I knew it was a sin” and runs from the house to see her parent’s car smashed into the house. The mother dies. Death = natural. Build the story: tell of how the family disintegrates = disaster, conclusion the rebuilding of the family = how nature recuperates from disaster.

Some editors may not feel that you addressed the subject. BUT, if you write well enough the editor(s) will recognize your innovative approach and consider your submission, and who knows you may even win!

The same holds true for non-fiction writing. If you want to get published, local weekly papers are a great opportunity. Offer to attend the school board and city council meetings not covered by the paper. Yes, they can be boring, but there is always a story there. Dig among the rubble: new textbooks? Don’t just write about that, go behind the scene, ask what was the decision-making process, who was involved, why did they choose a particular publisher. It’s fun; teachers and administrators love to talk, unless they’ve made a bad public decision, and then you have a field to explore. Dig deep, be polite and think creatively.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, here are a few things to consider.

Remember your readers. Successful writing makes the reader think of life in a broader context. When possible, move from the specific to a universal theme the reader can relate to.

Use the active voice. There are three basic elements to a sentence: subject, verb, object. Example: Mollie, bite, mosquito. Depending on what happened you could write: The mosquito bit Mollie or Mollie bit the mosquito. DO NOT write in the passive voice: the mosquito was bitten by Mollie. Believe me, when I try to bite a pesky mosquito as I enjoy the setting sun it is very active. Engage your readers in the present.

Be descriptive and lively as you tell your story. You’ve read a million times: show, don’t tell. This is true and can’t be repeated enough. Use the active voice and tell your reader, “As she enjoyed the quiet sunset, the buzzing of a mosquito disturbed Mollie. She waited, moving her jaw in anticipation. When the menacing pest landed on her arm she bent forward in a slow, practiced manner. Chomp, she bit the pest.”

Gag. Just so you know I slap. But you get the picture don’t you?

Final Poll Results

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