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.