Around Christmas last year, I felt compelled to write a couple of short stories. One fictionalized my father-in-law's house in Huntington, Long Island (and I mean the house and the people in it). Another was a psychological horror story about a woman losing her mind while trying on clothes at the post-Christmas sales. Okay, maybe I don’t cope very well with the holidays. But something good came out of my distress. I enjoyed writing the stories so much that I decided to write a short story every single day, starting January 1st.
And I’ve done so, except for a couple of weeks in April when I wrote character and archetype studies instead of short stories. This is how I do it: I sit somewhere with a notebook and a pen. It could be at home, at a café, riding the subway, or—in the case of the horror story I mentioned—at Ann Taylor’s on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 52nd Street in New York, while my wife tried on clothes. I think for a moment, lasting from a few minutes up to about twenty minutes. I run a few ideas in my head, discarding the overly ambitious, the clichés, the dead ends. Then I settle on a premise, and off I go.
“Sarah Whitcombe had three fears, and three fears only.”
“The Queen of England accidentally locked herself in the bathroom.”
“The vulture and the hyena liked going out to dinner together.”
Armed with nothing but the premise, the notebook, and my imagination, I write away, essentially improvising upon the chosen theme and aiming, if possible, to create a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some of my stories are good enough to belong in a book one day; others are unspeakably bad. But if you want to improvise freely, you need to suspend judgment and let things be. What counts isn’t the result but the process: the willingness to face the blank page every day without exception, the steady development of craft, and the insights deep into one’s own psyche. (Some of my improvisations made me afraid of myself!)
Go on. Sit down with a notebook and a pen. And let the demons come out and have their say.