Lessons Learned — “I’ve got nothing” is the new norm

Getting something from nothing is magic. We can argue about the “cost” of magic or how indistinguishable it is from “sufficiently advanced technology” or whether or not Mom’s rhubarb pie constitutes magic (It does! It really does!), but if you start with nothing and produce something, that’s magic.

When I began the Flash-a-Day-for-a-Year project, I expected to wring every last drop of story from my noggin and close up shop around day ten… maybe twelve. Truthfully, I figured I had thirty or so ideas, which I’d follow up with another ten or fifteen adventures of Kevin the talking kazoo until I just petered out.

I’m not good with writing prompts—never have been. I’ve checked out web sites, books, and podcasts, and not one prompt inspired a story in me. Rambling gobble-dee-gook from someone else’s brainstorm was not going to do for this project, and I refuse to write a story prompted by the question: “What if the refrigerator fell in love with the toaster?” So when I used up the last idea I’d been sitting on, I figured the end was near.

Funny thing happened, though—the ideas kept coming, sometimes out of nowhere. I discovered a few tricks to come up with new ones, which kept me going a little while longer. (I will blog more about these.) I constantly brainstormed to fill my “flash ideas” file, but the brainstorms grew stale fast, and soon I was spending a lot of time fretting, sweating, and wetting to find something—anything—that I could spin into a tale. Some nights were long, but the magic kept happening.

Some of my characters and scenarios offered inspiration, but because of the non-stop nature of the project, I continuously tapped out those sources, and that brought me to many long, dark nights of the soul, where day after day I would sit down to write and realize “I’ve got nothing.”

Imminent failure scared and discouraged me, but by the time I’d gotten to Day 200 or so, I’d faced the “I’ve got nothing” bugaboo about a hundred times and gotten through it. “I’ve got nothing” became a familiar adversary that I would march against with anticipation and resolve.

Before this challenge, I would have quit many times, but to give up during that year meant failure, which forced me to confront that phantom, “writer’s block.” I’ve come to know that writer’s block just means it’s time to hunker down and push. There’s no such thing as writer’s block, there’s only lack of will. But you have to know that—you have to believe in magic—to beat it.