Somewhere along your journey of being a writer you’re going to hear the term “Rule of 20.”
If you haven’t so far, great, this will be a truly useful tool to learn that once you master you can go forth and spew this impressive parlor trick to the uninitiated. If you already have, and the Rule of 20 is proudly displayed on the wall of your workshop educated brain, well good for you. Stick around for the lemonade and brownies I’ll be serving later.
The Rule of 20 is a brainstorming technique to force you to get creative and go beyond the been-there, done-that hash vibrating in the front of your gray matter that serves as your typical go-to source of reference when you’re trying to write. The stuff you’ve seen/heard/read/watched ad nauseum that perpetuates the same ol’, same ol’ of lazy writing. The stale crap that fails to strike the tickle spot of an agent or editor who is looking for that “FRESH VOICE.”
Here’s how it works.
First, drop and give me twenty. Ideas, that is. (But if push-ups help your writer blood flow, be my guest. I’ll wait. I prefer deep elbow bends with my Starbucks, but hey, we all have our motivational rituals.)
Start by creating a numbered list from – you guessed it, smartie! – one to twenty. Pretty easy so far, right? Next step is to decide what you’ll be working on – be it a scene, a plot twist, conflict, black moment –whatever. The thing that’s constipating your brain at the moment. Got it? Good. Now, next to each empty, waiting number, jot the idea that first comes to mind. Each consecutive idea should push you further into taking that big mental dump to solve the bind of your writing dilemma.
How’s it going so far? Slowing down yet? That’s okay. You’ll hit a wall around eleven or twelve, because the first ten you grunt out will come from the shallow wading pool of TV/commercials/novels stereotypes that bombard your brain on a daily basis. Those go-to clichés we talked about. The same old tired ideas that smell like porta-potties in a heat wave.
It gets a bit more difficult once you’ve performed your mind enema, because you’re thinking there’s nothing left, right?
Now comes the good stuff. The dig deep for that fresh idea – no matter how crazy or improbable it may sound – stuff. Write those down. Really. Do it. Because one of them can/could/will spark something you can work with later. I promise. This is where the unique FRESH VOICE that only you possess takes over. This is where ideas and solutions and plot twists buried under the muck of predisposed, has-been images you’ve been fed all of your life can finally surface and squint at the bright light your emptied mind has shed on them.
And yes, some will be uber-ridiculous. Flying superhero earwigs and singing cops (Cop Rock anyone? Just me? Okay.) type mega-flop ideas. But some will be genius. GENIUS, I SAY!!!
Keep going all the way to 20 even if it means downing a shot of mental laxative to empty your brain completely.
Whew! Wipe the sweat off your brow and there you have it. Twenty ideas. Naw, strike that. Tear the sheet in half and mercy flush the first ten. They suck. NOW you have it. Ten ideas. Ten brilliant, deep from your writing bowels, ideas to work with to create the aforementioned FRESH scene, plot twist, conflict, black moment, whatever.
Pretty elementary stuff, once you think about it. A Writer 101 type lesson we’ve all been taught to use when gobsmacked with the dreaded writers’ block or when we want to take our writing up a notch.
But how many of us still actually DO THIS??? I mean, really sit down and go 1. 2. 3. And fill in the corresponding ideas all the way to 20? Or how many of us *think* we’ve mastered the fresh idea, and instead of brainstorming we spiral into the brainwashed habits of tried and true and blah you suck rejected tripe? (Ooh! Ooh! I know this one! *raises hand*)
Challenge. The next time you’re sitting on the pot playing Turds With Friends on your smart phone, open your Notes app instead. Blow the stink off your writing and number that bad boy up. See what empties out and don’t forget to mercy flush the first ten ideas.
Oh, I almost forgot. Lemonade and brownies anyone?
I can’t believe I’ve never heard of the top 20! You can bet I’ll be using it now… I just happen to be stuck on something at the moment. Thanks for the post!
…I mean… Rule of 20. 😉
OMG! I made a Cop Rock reference just yesterday! I was beginning to fear I was the only one who remembered that travesty! I hate taking my shoes and socks off to count that high, but I’ll have to give this Rule of 20 a try sometime…
Are you SERIOUS??? I will have to check that out. GMTA, or perhaps it’s just the “squirrel!” in both of us – LOL!! I have no idea how/why Cop Rock popped into my mind, and I *swear* I hadn’t read your blog yet. I knew I liked you for a reason. Who was the lead cop singer guy? He was also in Grease 2, which is why he got the Cop Rock gig, I’m sure. It was such a ridiculous premise and STUPID show!!! LOL! Thanks for reading and posting!!
LOL, I didn’t make the comment on my blog. It was on my message board home I so often refer to… given as a joke answer to a trivia game I played there. It cracked me up to see your reference not long after it had oozed from my brain because you never see Cop Rock jokes anymore. I didn’t watch it, I just recall how it was a concept so ridiculous that it was a virtual joke factory for every comedian and wannabe comedian for several years….