The ever-elusive story idea. What’s gonna hit? What’s worth exploring? For some, story ideas flow like a never-ending stream, while for others, new ideas are as hard to come by as toilet paper in a pandemic. I’ve occasionally found myself on both sides of this coin and am here to share some tips on how to overcome writer’s block and jump-start what feels like a lifeless imagination.
How to Get Going When You’re Stuck
All writers face writer’s block at some point in their lives. You sit down at the keyboard and nothing comes out. You stare at the blinking cursor long enough to drive yourself proper crazy. You end up sitting at your desk chair scrolling Twitter instead. What can you do?
I have a few suggestions.
Walk the Eff Away
Sometimes you just need a break. On more than one occasion, I have had to completely walk away from creating fiction for a time. Maybe a couple weeks, maybe a couple months. My longest and latest stint was six months. Do I shame myself during these times? Occasionally. But I try to remind myself that sometimes life gets in the way, and the quality of my writing is very much connected to my emotions.
If it’s not the time, it’s just not the time. I don’t have any reason to feel guilty about that, and neither should you.
Keep a Journal
Something else I do when I want to write but can’t find the inspiration is write in my personal journal. Sometimes I write about life, sometimes I write about random events, sometimes I write poems. The only rule to keeping a journal is there are no rules. It’s for my eyes only, and I find solace in that.
Coming back to the journal daily helps in two ways. It can help you work past any subconscious things that might be bothering you, and it can help get you into the habit of daily writing.
It also provides a sense of accomplishment, because you are meeting a goal. Instead of shaming yourself for not being able to get any words down, you are proud of yourself for keeping some kind of schedule. This has helped me more than once.
This is one of my main inspirations. I’ll touch on it more in the next section, but consuming art is a big part of my writing. With all of the platforms available online these days, there are endless ways to experience art: paintings, photography, writing, dance, movies, etc.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across a photo or painting on social media that inspired me to write a story about it. It’s hard to create if you live in a bubble, so make sure you’re taking in new forms of inspiration.
Looking for New Story Ideas When You Have None
You’ve finally finished a project and are ready to start the next one, only you don’t know what to write about.
A lot of writers are plagued by having too many ideas and not enough time to write them, but that’s not true for all. Some dig through the reeds of their minds and come out empty-handed. This isn’t a one-size fits all thing, but I’m going to share where I’ve found some of my inspiration over the years.
Find What Inspires You to Write
This is a big one for me. When I started putting my fiction out there, it was first in the form of flash fiction pieces inspired by images I came across on Instagram. When I found a photo that struck some kind of chord, I saved it, then eventually wrote an Instagram-sized story to go with it. As I continued, the stories got longer, so I moved them to a blog. Before I knew it, I was putting together an anthology I dubbed Blood Drops.
This ‘found inspiration’ worked for my longer fiction pieces as well. The book I am currently querying was inspired by the combination of a photo I found on Instagram along with the wave of rideshare apps when it first hit. There was a driver with a mini fleet of cars who would park in my neighborhood and wait for ride requests, but before I realized that’s what was going on, I often wondered just what the H-E-Double-Hockey-Stick he was doing on my street every day.
Thus, my first novel idea was born. It morphed greatly as I worked on the plot, but those were its beginning points.
Look for things that inspire you. Try to find art and artists you connect with on some emotional level. Read books, not just in your genre, but all across the spectrum. Listen to music you wouldn’t normally listen to. Explore new hashtags on social media. And if something randomly hits you, WRITE IT DOWN. Ideas come and go in the blink of an eye.
Keep a notebook or an app on your phone handy, and keep all of your crazy, random ideas in there. Then when you sit down to write, pop that idea collection open and start going through them. Two really good randos might just add up to be one magnificently, brilliant idea that you can form into a main story dilemma or a great inciting incident, then the work can grow from there.
Curiosity Killed the Writer’s Block
As I stated above, the work I’m querying now was partially inspired by my curiosity about an odd happening on my street. To look at the man parked on my street and know he was running a small rideshare business is a very straight forward fact, but if I’d known that from the get-go, I might not have ever written the story.
While we can’t erase knowledge and understanding from our brains, with some practice, it is possible to turn it off for a while, learn to frolic in wonder.
If you’re looking for a new story idea, get curious about the world around you. Try to remember how you saw the world when you were but a wee lad, before you knew everything, and life lost its mystery. Try to see things out of the norm, imagine what they could be if they weren’t what they are.
See that chair in the corner? What if its legs could run on their own? That pond by the house? What if some slimy fish crawled out of its still surface and was able to talk? And that cloud? What if it wasn’t composed of water droplets but sharp spikes, and it was about to rain?
Being practical and matter of fact can make creating hard, so it’s good practice to let yourself forget just how things really are for a little while.
The Golden Notebook
I mentioned this before, but the last trick I keep up my sleeve is my golden notebook, my collection of ideas.
I’m super old-school, so I used to have a paper notebook that I carried with me everywhere, and any time inspiration struck, whether it was a story idea, an opening line, or a random name I liked, I wrote it down.
However, there were many times I had an idea when I didn’t have that notebook in my hands, like when I was in line at the grocery store or out for a walk with my family. That notebook also made it a little hard to navigate my random thoughts. There was no organization to the brain dump, so I literally just had to read it front to back if I was looking for something to work with.
With all of the resistance in the world, I eventually moved to a note app for my ideas, and that note app is exclusively used for my creative endeavors. I use Microsoft One Note. I have a tab for story ideas, a tab for names, a tab for larger ideas that I deem novel worthy, a tab for goals I’ve set for myself, and in each of those tabs are a plethora of notes that I’ve been adding to for the last five years.
It’s been a long time now since I’ve sat down and said, “I just don’t know what I want to write about,” because any time I feel a lack of inspiration, I scroll through my notes, and if something hits me, I pursue it further. Some, many, of my ideas will never get used. Some of them are just random weirdo thoughts that are documented and will forever remain that way, but many times this little trick has saved me the frustration of trying to figure out what to write about, and some of these little notes have evolved into a few of my favorite pieces.
Find what works for you, but if you don’t have a place to dump your random ideas, I recommend starting this right away.
I Certainly Don’t Have Writer’s Block
Phew. When I started this post, I didn’t expect it to be so long, but there it is. I hope you find some useful tidbits. I know what works for me may not work for others, and we all have to find our way in this crazy path we’ve chosen as writers.
But let’s be honest. For most of us, we didn’t choose it, it chose us, and for that reason, we continue to write even if we don’t really know why.
I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and I’m proud of the work you’ve done too, for I know it hasn’t been easy. I know you spend days wanting to slam your head on the keyboard or chunk your laptop out of the window. But you don’t quit, and that’s all that matters.
Keep going. Write it all down. And be proud of yourself. You never know what the future holds for you.
As always, with love,