Good Writing: Can it Be as Simple as Leaving Your Living Room?

I’ll look down, and panic will strike when I realize my 3rd-grade penmanship, combined with an errant washing of my hands, has failed me: The list is gone.

I tend to be a creature of routine and plotting, functioning via to-do lists, more often than not scrawled in semi-blurred inks on my left palm. Moreover, since I took up editing over staff writing jobs, my mandatory out-and-about adventure quota has decreased, allowing me to nestle further into my routines and stay indoors after work—which has made creative writing a bit harder. Which has made me realize that some routines can be like electric blankets: Cozy and appreciated by the cats, but perilous if left on too long.

Thus, to combat the beginnings of my inner reclusive Salinger (and break out of recurring themes/characters/plots), I try to remind myself what longtime WD freelancer Art Spikol said last summer in a piece about how to spend writing downtime. His advice is the latest in the Top 20 Tips from WD in 2009 series.

No. 8: Leave the Living Room
Get out of the house. Don’t go for a walk in the park. Go to places you might not normally frequent: the emergency room, a local bar, a bowling alley, an all-night diner, a comic book store. They’re all slices of culture, mini democracies that will help erase stereotypes in your writing.
Art Spikol, from the May/June 2009 issue of WD (click here to check it out).

Taking things one nerdy step further, I try to plan small writing adventures outside of my usual haunts to brainstorm prompts, knead half-baked story ideas, people watch, and even stumble upon the makings of freelance pieces.

You never know what’s going to happen, just like sitting down to a blank page—and it’s damn freeing to ditch the electric blanket every so often, even if whatever I discover does end up scrawled on my palm for a later date.

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings.

You attempt to cut the cake, but the knife slides into something else.
The crowd looks on, and forks start clinking against glasses.

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9 thoughts on “Good Writing: Can it Be as Simple as Leaving Your Living Room?

  1. Martha W

    You need an umbrella, Zac. Or maybe just someone taller than you to take the hit first! lol!

    And I’m only a few hours away from Cinci – whatcha planning???? Hhm??? Cake is good… very good. I’d go anywhere for cake. *grin*

  2. Zac


    I know — Sorry for the delay! Things got a little hectic at the magazine, and every time I would turn around, prompt in hand, another ceiling tile would fall on my head.

    But we’re getting back on track now and are also planning some super-cool stuff for our 90th anniversary in January… Do you live near Cincinnati at all? There’s talk of cake…

    PS: We’re loving the stories from you and Mark!

  3. Martha W

    You attempt to cut the cake, but the knife slides into something else. The crowd looks on, and forks start clinking against glasses.

    No one realizes what has happened.

    How could they all look on and not see? You know things couldn’t be as bad as they seem. Maybe it’s your imagination. Yeah, that’s it. Your imagination.

    Slowly you pull the knife out and give the cake another shot. Your new bride is nuzzling your neck, "Honey, they want a kiss."

    "Oh, yeah?" You’re trying not to sound nervous, but how do they not know?

    She practically purrs in your ear, her eyes darkening with lust. "Yeah. So give one up."

    With just a crook of your finger she leans in and covers your mouth with hers. For a moment you forget. Until you feel a tug on the knife in your hand. Flinching, you break free from her to the raunchy cheers of your best buds.

    Rolling your eyes at them and winking at her, you hook your free arm around her waist to pull her close. "Honey? What kind of cake is this?"

    "Chocolate Raspberry. Your favorite. Why?"

    "I don’t know. Something’s wrong."

    She lightly nips you on the ear. "Nothing’s wrong. Cut the cake." She reaches her hand over yours and helps you slice through the layers of chocolate, raspberry glaze oozing out.

    Suddenly, out of the cake rises a half-monster, half child.

    Turning on you, he seizes the knife and plunges the blade at your chest. Screaming you dive back, lurching away from the halfling.

    "Honey? Honey!" Someone is shaking you, lightly tapping your face. "Honey!"

    Your eyes spring open, staring at your fiance.

    Sucking in deep breaths, trying to calm your racing heart, you say, "Babe. I don’t think I’m ready to get married."

  4. Mark James

    I cut into the bottom tier of the cake with a knife bigger than the one I use when I’m working. Why you need all that steel to cut cake, I don’t know.

    Liz was looking at me like I was the light of her life. Must of done something right somewhere along the way. I don’t remember it, but with her standing next to me, I had to believe it.

    The crowd around us clinked their silver forks on crystal glasses. My knife glided past the icing to the moist guts underneath. With all that tinkling, the sound of my knife hitting something metal inside was lost.

    Someone leaned in close, rested his hand on my shoulder and said, “For old time’s sake, Dex.”

    I kept right on cutting and smiling for the photographer. I cut wide enough to get all the metal, then I slid the cake onto the plate with ‘Groom’ written on it.

    Liz kissed me for the photographer, and we both cut the piece that went on the ‘Bride’ plate.

    It was time for Liz to toss her bouquet. All her girlfriends gathered in a tight, giggling knot.

    I took my plate and faded back into the crowd ‘til I found him. I patted his back, smiled for anyone watching, and said, “Pick out your tombstone.”

    He laughed. If I’d still had that big knife in my hand, I wouldn’t have gutted him on the spot, but it would have been real close.

    Detective Hansen sipped champagne from his glass. “What’s wrong? Don’t want your new wife knowing you spent time on Death Row for three murders?”

    “You wanna die today, Lieutenant? Cause I don’t have a problem with that. I’ll even make it fast for you.”

    “You must be real glad she spends a lot of time outside the country.”

    I squeezed his shoulder way too hard. “Get out. Or I swear, I’ll come after you.”

    He twisted out of my grip. “You sure got a bad temper. It’s just a metal file. I figured you’d need it next I get you inside. It’s the only you’ll get out.”

    I got so close, we could have kissed. “You know what’s worse than dying?”

    “Waking up next to a murder everyday the rest of my life?”

    “Wishing you were dead. Know what’s worse than that?”

    He took a sip of champagne that was more like a gulp. “Stop it. You’re scaring me.”

    “It’s worse when you’re laying there, paralyzed, watching someone rip your insides out one inch at a time, and you’re wishing you weren’t born.”

    I finally saw what I wanted in his eyes – the kind of deep fear a man can’t hide.

    “You make all the threats you want. You sneeze, I’m gonna be there with a tissue.”

    “My honeymoon’s over in two weeks. After that, you’re mine.”

    I dumped the cake on my way back to Liz. Two weeks from now, I had a tough job ahead of me.