05 September 2019

#WriteCBC: Writing tip and writing task from Cynan Jones

Cynan Jones, author
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

It’s September, and #WriteCBC is back! Yes, it’s the return of our monthly Twitter writing competition after our summer break, and this month’s splendid guest is Cynan Jones, author of five novels including The Dig, The Long Dry and Everything I Found on the Beach. He has won a Betty Trask Award and the BBC National Short Story Award, for which he is on the 2019 judging panel. Cynan’s short stories have appeared in Granta and The New Yorker.  He is also the course leader for our brand new Writing Short Stories online course. If you haven’t joined in #WriteCBC before, check out this blog with information about how to play – it’s lots of fun and you might just win a free place on one of our six-week online writing courses.

And now, on with the tip and task!

Cynan’s writing tip:

Try writing a story by generating a ‘base text’, writing freely in response to a prompt for a fixed period of time – and only later going back to refine and edit, thinking about where in your text the story really is and what shape it wants to have

I hope we’re all familiar with the idea of writing to prompts. Cynan really likes to use a timer for this: Once you’ve set the timer for however many minutes you’re able to work with, you just have to pick up your pen and write whatever comes into your head in response to the prompt – whether the prompt you’re using is a visual one or a random sentence to start you off. It’s really important, sometimes, to switch off your internal editor and just let the words flow out as freely as possible, without worrying about whether they’re any good and without allowing yourself to go back and keep changing things. It’s a great way to get across the mental blocks that all too often stop us from writing – and Cynan reckons it’s best to do it longhand, pen on paper, as we’re more likely to be tempted to rewrite as we go along when we’re working on screen.

Once the time is up, you’ll find you have a piece of text, which you may or may not like. If you don’t like it, then Cynan recommends trying again with a different prompt. But it’s quite likely that you’ll actually find something in that rough bit of writing – or ‘base text’ – that you do like. Maybe you’ve come up with the opening of a story, or perhaps there’s just a sentence or two somewhere in the midst of it that you’ll find interesting. The bottom line is that this exercise gets you limbering up ready to work – but at best you may find you have the beginnings of a story or a scene that you’ll want to work further into.

This is a technique that Cynan uses on our new Writing Short Stories online course. He sets what he calls a ‘trigger’ to get you writing, and he starts a timer going. Then, just to add an extra challenge, he calls out some random words while you’re writing, and you have to try to incorporate them within the next sentence or two that you write. Sounds tricky but it’s fun – and you end up with a ‘base text’ which you can elect to use as the starting point of the short story you’ll be writing across the six weeks of the course, working deeply into the material and also ‘listening’ to where your story demands to go.

But back to business …

Cynan’s writing task:

Using the photo as a prompt, set a timer for 10 minutes and just write without thinking too hard. Then take some (or all) of your text and edit and distil until you have something that interests you at tweet-length, and share it with us …

Ocean writing prompt


So there you go! Set your mind free and see what you come up with. Then work further into your base text, shortening and sharpening and focusing, before you share your final tweet-length excerpt. You might find your tweet-scene relates very closely to the content of the photo – or perhaps it won’t even be possible to see that your mini-scene has been generated in response to the photo at all. Take your time over it – and if you apply yourself fully, you might find you’ll come up with something that really interests you and helps you in your writing – whether it’s the beginnings of a short story or a sequence that feeds into a longer work of fiction.

This month’s winner is Katie (@Katie90991524)

The baby arrived on the winter tide. She became ours, a miracle water wisp of a girl. After that it was impossible to give her away; the lies were tattooed on our skin. We lived with the untruths, slipped reality out with the sea and watched as it found a new shore. 
There were so many great responses to the task, but this one really jumped out at us. There is so much going on in Katie’s story: it really takes the visual prompt and runs with it, creating something mysterious and intriguing. It evokes so much emotion and atmosphere. The opening  ‘winter tide’ orientates us in a mood and place, and ‘a miricle water wisp of a girl’ is wonderful piece of writing.

Well done Katie! You’ve won a free place on the 6-week online novel-writing course of your choice!

And this month’s runners-up are Alice Mars (@alicemars_write) and Charlotte Marigold @CMarigoldauthor – each get a £50 course discount –  Congrats everyone!

Our brand new Writing Short Stories course led by Cynan Jones is open now for enrolment. It starts on October 17th 2019. Find out more …

We also run six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey, enrol today: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.

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