I recently bought my kids some Silly Putty. It was a nostalgic whim that turned out to be pure magic for them. They’ve played with Play Doh for years, but they’d never seen anything like this wonder ball of goodness. The more they played with it, the more impressed they were.
So you know me and you know where this is going. Yes. I started comparing the semi-plastic goop to my writing life and I developed this Silly Putty test.
Let’s start with hours and hours of fun. Are you having fun when you write? Okay, maybe not all the time—but overall—do you enjoy the work? If so, give yourself 1000 points. If you have hours and hours of fun at one time, without interruption, we’re all jealous. Deduct 100 points.
Moving on to craft: can you press your mind against the words of a writer you admire and come away with something inspired, but not derivative? If you said yes, deduct 100 points for hubris. If you said no, deduct 200 points. You’re gonna need some hubris.
So let’s assume you’ve written this amazing book. You’ve sent it off to your agent or editor and you hear back that they love it, but would you mind scrapping the B plot, changing the buddy character into a unicorn and adding a love triangle? Can you stretch those characters into something totally different (and yet oddly the same)? Yeah? Add 500 points. If you can stretch one of the characters into a lovable, supernatural being, add another 100 points. If all your stretched images turn into talking animals, deduct 100 points. Unless you can actually make that work. Then add 300 (see comments on hubris).
Still with me? Okay then. Only two more tests. Next: the stretch-break factor. Can you pace yourself for the slow stretch—the element needed to move your writing from where it is now all the way across the years to where it can be? Add 1000 points. Are you prone to sudden breaks instead? At the first sign of adversity, do you drop out of critique groups, dump your agent, or snap at reviewers? Lose all your points, including the ones for hubris. You may have over-internalized that factor.
Now your last test: when you’re curled tightly into a ball, sure that you cannot be reduced into anything smaller or more insignificant, is this when you bounce? If so, add 5000 points. You have what it takes. You’ve passed the Silly Putty test for writers.