We writers sit and wait for a great idea to hit us between the eyes, then we spill that genius on paper, right? Wrong. Creativity, the act of creating original ideas, is an active process. It must be sought after, fueled. Just like a car, when your creative engine runs out of fuel it will not work. Call it writer’s block, call it muse desertion, call it whatever. Whatever you do, don’t call it quits.
Whether muddling in the middle of a novel manuscript or fishing around for a fresh short story there is always a need for ideas. Here are a few places you can turn if you get stuck:
1) Personal experience – No matter how boring the life you think you have, it is still the perfect platform for building something believable. The common mantra “write what you know” stems from here. Keep a notebook handy when you are out and about. Jot down things you hear people say or things that catch your interest. Ask yourself “what made them do that?” and “what if …?” questions. The more you ask the deeper you will get and the more ideas you will start to churn out.
2) The real world – Ok, your life truly is boring and asking “what if?” questions about your cat’s motives isn’t getting you anywhere. It’s time to search the world for new and interesting things. Read newspapers, I’m particularly fond of the “odd news” section for exploring new ideas. Again, keep asking questions about why people might do what ended themselves in the news, create a back story for them.
3) The imaginary realm – Read the best stuff out there, watch movies. Try to figure out the origins of their ideas. The whole of “Finding Nemo” story might have sprung from a Pixar producer learning that his dentist’s fish came from a recent scuba trip, who knows. In the end there are few truly unique stories, most have existed for millenia in one form or another. All that matters is the way they are written. Be fearless.
4) Still stuck? You are in the middle of writing a scene and have no idea where it needs to go. It’s freewrite time! Set a timer for 15 -20 minutes and start writing. Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t erase, just write everything that comes into your head. If you don’t know what to write, write “I don’t know what to write” over and over until you do. Don’t be surprised if you end up doing a little bit of personal therapy during the freewrite, it happens.
Don’t be afraid to write something that isn’t perfect. Progress, not perfection. There will be opportunities to return and improve, it’s called editing. Happy writing.
Some great advice here – particularly getting out into the real world and finding out what is going on. Truth is usually stranger than fiction.
Well said. I might add that no matter how you feel when you are “blocked”, the truth is we are all “idea machines”. New ones come into existence all the time. When I get blocked on a current project, I tuck the project away and work on something else. Pretty soon the juices are flowing again, and all is right with the world.
Whenever I found my self coming up short in the ideas department, I would think up several quite mundane situations for my chosen character, then select three at random, and weave them into a short story. The more disparate the better. That was comedy/fantasy stuff: Whether it would work in other genres I’m not so certain. It got me over a ‘hump’ – that is an uncertainty that I could actually write at all. Fortunately since then I’ve not had to use it.
Great post- very helpful ideas!
When I find myself blocked, I actually get up from my chair and have an imaginary conversation with one of my main characters. It sounds a bit odd, but it works quite well:)