One Hundred Words or Less To Cure Writer’s Block

Dawn Bevier

One great way writers can find the words they need and make a little money in the process

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I sit here at the computer, engaged in a staring contest with an expanse of white. I refuse to let it win, yet the words I need evade me. Where are they?

They're at recess, hanging on the monkey bars and smoking cigarettes behind a grove of trees while I try to conquer yet another round of writer’s block. I call to them to come back. They resist, rolling their eyes and sticking their tongues out at me in glee. And I have no clue how to wrangle this rebellious group of words to my side.

I made a promise to myself this past year that I would focus more on my craft. As a result, I've been writing and reading copious amounts every day, trying to take advantage of the words of wisdom from writers “in the know.” For example, novelist Lisa See says, “Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.” Louis L’Amour says, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Still, at times, no matter what I tried as a writer, there was a dry, dusty desert where an oasis of words and ideas should be.

For many writers, writer’s block seems a bit like a terminal illness. You try one treatment and it works. Until it doesn’t. Then, you try another. The cycle goes on and on.

Perhaps you also frequently struggle with writer's block. And if you do find yourself at a loss for words, I've found one thing that really works to get the juices flowing.

Reader’s Digest 100-word story submissions.

The publication urges people to tell a true story in less than one hundred words. If you are successful, you can earn a spot in a popular publication. If you aren’t successfully published, the act of completing this challenge still offers many benefits.

1. It Makes a Writer “Get to the Point Already.”

The first benefit of embracing this site as a tool for writing is that it teaches the importance of clarity, brevity, and short sentences. As writers, we love words, and perhaps it is our unconscious sin to use too many at one time. We can be wordy, and we can be repetitive, and both of these flaws can take away from the impact and drama of our story.

Stephen King says it best when he writes that “the road to hell is paved with adverbs” or advises us to “cut [our writing] to the bone” and “get rid of every ounce of excess fat.”

Writing a story in one hundred words or less helps me see the rewards of the “less is more” strategy. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a time for eloquent description, but one can have ”too much of a good thing” when applying this technique.

For example, as an English teacher, I have to explain to my students the value of varying one’s sentence structure. When I tell students to intermix shorter sentences with longer ones, they look at me as if I am crazy. They tell me that “little kids write short sentences.” Yes, they do. And big kids like us should use them as well. The interplay between long and short sentences creates a powerful tempo that keeps your reader from becoming bored or lost in a long barrage of adjectives.

2. The Challenge Offers Up New Plots.

Remember, the publication urges you to write a one-hundred-word story. Start to finish. Exposition to Resolution. Oftentimes, I have found that my one-hundred words give me an outline on which to expand and add depth. It is sometimes the muse for a short story, poem, or novel that I never knew existed.

When you write these submissions, keep them also on another Google document. This way, you have a plethora of ideas from which you can pick and choose. Who knows? One hundred words could lead to your finest literary work.

Remember the wonderful story of Charlotte’s Web? Charlotte, the spider, tells Wilbur that her egg sac is her magnum opus. Inside the sac are 514 eggs. She says the sac protects the eggs and keeps them safe, so when they are ready, they can hatch. Think of these short writings in the same way; each of them is an egg that could take on new life in time.

3. It Could Even Make You Money.

The digest offers one hundred dollars for submissions of this type that it chooses to publish. That’s a lot of money for a relatively short amount of time.

For example, how many times as writers do we work our fingers to the bone on a longer piece, only to receive pennies for all our blood, sweat, and tears? If this is the literary lottery, I am going to play every day. It’s like a one-dollar scratch-off that only costs a little but could land big results. And the best thing about this strategy? Even if you lose, you still come out a winner.

The next time you encounter writer’s block, give this strategy a try. It may be just the cure you need.

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Sanford, NC
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