The Thousand Word Diet


I was watching a car commercial where they kept talking about how well ‘a precision driver’ would fare while driving their car.  I thought about it for a minute and thought ‘if the car is crap, the driver doesn’t really matter, does it?’  Then I saw ‘the precision driver’ applying the brakes on his car and a thunderous applause ensued.  Why were they clapping?  Then the screen went white and I saw the word: “Toyota” on the screen.  Like the driver of a vehicle with faulty brakes, a precision writer must be able to use all elements of their craft if they are going to be able to maneuver their road: the 81/2 x 11” piece of paper.  The precision writer must understand the importance of everything they write because they know that anything worth doing is worth doing well.  The precision writer never stops writing due to a lack of content, because they know that the only thing worse than bad writing is no writing at all.

The first thing I wrote was absolutely awful; to this day I still look back on it with shame.  It was called “The Chicken Who Blew up the Sun.”  Don’t laugh yet, I haven’t gotten to the funny part.  It’s about a chicken that is absolutely obsessed with buying as much dynamite as possible to fulfill his mission of blowing up the sun.  Even when I was seven I had an active imagination.  The story did have a sub-plot, however.  The real story was about the chickens’ individual missions to go and buy the dynamite he would use to blow up the sun.  He always had a different method of retrieval and he never gave up in his attempts to eliminate the sun.  He never had a motive for his crime (if that really is a crime) and for some reason that’s still lost on me, he had the ability to speak and carry large amounts of explosives onto the surface of the sun.

I was so proud of my story that I made a hardcover edition.  I took a couple pieces of tag board, punched some holes in it and bound it together with yarn and left it on display for parent/teacher conferences.  It was a hit!  Both my parents and I got a private invitation to meet with the principal after parent/teacher conferences.  Then I found out that he wasn’t as big of a fan as I thought he’d be.  Needless to say, my book did not receive the critical acclaim I thought it deserved.  Like the precision writer, I didn’t let my detractors stop me from writing.  I wrote an especially graphic piece in sixth grade and it got nominated for the Delta Kappa Gamma (which was the very prestigious writing competition for students aged 6-12.)  But, again this led to further disappointment.  I didn’t let that stop me though, I kept on writing.

I think it’s fair to say that if I hadn’t kept writing despite all the hardship and letdowns I’d have gone out of my mind.  I pretty much stopped writing for over five years, but when I was seventeen I discovered I wanted to direct movies, so I wrote my first screenplay.  Since then, my writing continues and in a life filled with inconsistency, it’s the one thing that never stops and never disappoints me.  Regardless of what is going on in my life, the precision writer in me labors on.

I like to write by tangents.  Writing by tangents isn’t for everyone, but if you’re thinking about a million things at once it’s the only way to write.  The idea here is simple, write until you run out of ideas.  When you’re done look over what you’ve written and see what you’ve written about and then divide it by subject.  Find the piece that most appeals to you and set a goal for it.  Successful writing like success in life can only come if you set clear and concise goals.  The goal needs to be a time of date and should have something to do with a word count so you don’t overdo it.  I aim for one thousand words per relevant subject, hence the thousand word diet.

If you’re ever stuck for material to write about think about these five basic questions (who, what, when, where, and why?)  This is a creative process that has never failed me.  When I’m stuck this is where I go.  The key to getting around a mental block in your head isn’t to try and out think it, but out maneuver it.  Keep writing, that’s the easiest way to get through these things.  We all come up with excuses not to write, but in the end (and deep down you know this) there’s no excuse for not writing.  Even if it’s bad writing, at least you’re writing and putting something down on paper.  Whether you’re looking for filler material for a story you’re working on or simply going back through the things you’ve written to see what’s there; you’d be surprised how much useful information you’ve written down.

You want to be able to get all your ideas down on paper, that’s the most important thing.  You’ll never forgive yourself if you let an idea slip away, it will haunt you until the end of your days.  I don’t even bother paragraphing until I get to the editing stage.  How do you know where your breaks are if you haven’t finished your story?  I’ve never understood that.  Just write until you don’t want to write anymore.   One idea I use a lot is this: “write like you mean it.”  I love this phrase.  If you really wanted to hurt or get back at someone how would you do it? Really think about that question for a second.

A normal person would probably just hit them or something, but you’re a writer, you’ve got an active imagination, you’re going to think of something that they’ll never forget.  Think about the verbal (or physical) beat down you’d unleash on this person and apply this to your writing.  If nothing else this should lead to more action in your writing, but it should also put a story in motion.  Ask yourself some questions like: “where am I going to do this?  How am I going to do this?  What am I going to do when I get there?”  These are great questions that can lead you to an interesting story.

Creating a style in writing is almost as important as the content itself.  Many people say that it’s not the story; it’s how you tell it.  That being said, most people use inflection in their voice when they talk.  They accentuate when they speak adding emphasis to key words and sentences, while also maintaining general cohesiveness in their overall speech structure.  It’s hard to write like that.  I recommend putting quotes around the important parts of your story so you know how to accentuate your writing more effectively.  When you’re done writing go back to the important parts and look at the structure of your piece.  Just like art it shouldn’t be lopsided or heavy on either end.  There should be just enough zip and punch in every paragraph to sweep us off to the next paragraph.

Some writers believe you should be able to say everything you want to say in 1,000 words or less.  I don’t subscribe to this theory because it restricts you as an artist.  You should have general parameters, but you should always allow yourself the freedom to say everything you want to say.  There is no worse feeling than leaving a conversation with important words left unsaid.  The same is true in writing.  I know I call it the “thousand word diet,” but everyone breaks the rules sometimes, it’s up to you to decide when and where to do it.  Like everything else; do what’s most effective for you.  No one writes exactly the same way, just like no one talks the same way.

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