Writers: Can You Pass The Silly Putty Test? by Johanna Harness

28 Mar

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.


Posted by on March 28, 2012 in writers, writing


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23 responses to “Writers: Can You Pass The Silly Putty Test? by Johanna Harness

  1. Mariam Kobras

    March 28, 2012 at 5:47 AM

    Oh goodness. Been there, done that. I think we all have. The hardest part is the bouncing back, though. When you have to pull yourself through the black days and find the belief in yourself again, all by yourself.

    • johannaharness

      March 28, 2012 at 7:23 AM

      Thankfully a little bounce goes a long way. 🙂

  2. JC Rosen

    March 28, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    Fun fun fun! Loved it, Johanna. The Silly Putty Test is a clever spin on the pep talk for writers. You offer some important perspectives in amusing manners here. Let’s face it, if writers are in need of pep talks, distracting them with funny but meaningful messages isn’t easy. You hit that nail squarely on the head. Thanks for this.

    Take care,

    • johannaharness

      March 28, 2012 at 4:46 PM

      Thanks, Jess. Some days distractions are just the thing.

  3. Liz Fredericks

    March 28, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    Weird!! I bought my son his first ‘silly putty’ two days ago . . . he’d been pitying me for not having computers as a child . . . well, let’s just say I put that puppy to bed (and no, I don’t know what that means, but my family says it). Johanna, you have the most wonderfully creative and inspiring way to burrow into the crux of the matter. If we can bounce after being forced into our smallest form . . . kudos.

    • johannaharness

      March 28, 2012 at 4:49 PM

      I really think we’re mentally tuned to the same channel a lot of the time. I’m calling this a good thing. Hush now. It’s the rest of the world that’s crazy.

  4. Meredith Allen Conner

    March 28, 2012 at 7:57 AM

    I love the bounce. We all need to be able to bounce more.

  5. Betsy Love Lds Author

    March 28, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    Fun blog. I passed the test! 😀 I am silly putty!

  6. Janis McCurry

    March 28, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Great analogy! I like the stretching part. After all, we try to do that with our writing as well as our lives.

    • johannaharness

      March 28, 2012 at 4:52 PM

      So true, Janis. I always thought the incredible power of The Incredibles mom was right on target. Stretching is a great super power.

  7. Peggy Staggs

    March 28, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    What fun. I love the bounce.

  8. Ratan Kaul

    March 28, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Great. We all pass through these phases, but our resilience, like that of a putty, keeps us going.

  9. ramblingsfromtheleft

    March 28, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Now that I feel like Eddie Murphy doing Gumbee, I’ll roll myself in a ball, pick up my 5000 points and then get back to work. Thanks Johanna, keep stretching 🙂

    • johannaharness

      March 28, 2012 at 4:54 PM

      I love that thought. I hope today was a great writing day for you! 🙂

  10. stephanieberget

    March 28, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    Johanna, bouncing fixed so many things. Thanks for a great blog. I’d forgotten about Silly Putty. The advertisement made me smile.

  11. Lynn Mapp

    March 28, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    Bouncing, stretching, humbled. Yeah, I can do this, I can reach that, I can still learn a lot. it’s what we do.

  12. John Ross Barnes

    March 29, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    That is hilarious as well as an apt analogy.

    Shakin’ the tree, boss (means I’m workin on it)

  13. maryvine

    March 30, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    This makes me really look forward to your April presentation to CBC writers group!

  14. Clarissa Southwick

    April 5, 2012 at 7:38 AM

    I loved this test, Johanna. I failed the bouncing part, but it was great fun to read.


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