As promised in the previous post, I delve into the gruesome and gritty details of writer’s block. In this article, I chose to address what I call “creative issues” first. The struggle to unmuzzle the muse often seems the most salient and immediate problem. In the following paragraphs, I share some great “hacks” that have worked for me and others. Perhaps you will find the help you need here. However, stay tuned for future posts.
Strategies for Breaking Down Barriers to New Ideas
The age-old questions: what should I write about and where do I go for inspiration? This is generally not my problem. I have plenty of ideas; too many, if you ask me. However, I understand the pain of wanting to create and grasping for something you can’t quite reach.
As Solomon wrote in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Books, movies, and other media are often gold mines for ideas. Sometimes you can find inspiration by referencing an existing template. I tend to obtain ideas from multiple sources and blend them into a creation all my own. There’s a reason the nehmwight sorcerers in my Wyldling Series have mobile tattoos similar to the Khalidorian vurdmeisters in Brent Weeks’s The Way of Shadows. It’s the same reason why nehmwight magic loosely resembles the magic system used by the Canim Ritualists in Jim Butcher’s Codex of Alera. Reading those books inspired me. I shamelessly adapted certain aspects of their worldbuilding into my own work. The end result in my story is quite different but the idea-seeds are obvious if you’re familiar with the sources.
People watching is another way to get those creative juices flowing. By observing real-life interactions, you can come up with quirky characters, slice-of-life scenes, and believable dialogue. This might seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how few people consider it as an option. I certainly didn’t.
Look at the stories you love–or hate–and ask “what if” questions. What if Jane Eyre discovered she was a lesbian during her sojourn at Lowood School? What if Moiraine had been able to counsel Rand al’Thor in Lord of Chaos? Those stories might have turned out very differently…or not.
On a related note, you might ask how another character would have told the story differently. A great example of this is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view by Pamela Aidan: the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy.
Have you ever tried keeping a dream journal? The unconscious mind never stops working. This is why some people say “sleeping on” a problem helps them solve it. I am fascinated with dreams. I believe God often speaks to us while we’re sleeping. Many of my story ideas come from some very strange dreams that haunted and hounded me for days afterward. You’ll need to keep a notebook or diary next to your bed and jot down details from your dreams. Where are you? What does it feel like? Who is there with you and what are you doing? You can also keep track of dreams in a note-taking app such as Google Notes on your mobile phone.
Think about your interests. You could work your favorite hobbies into major plot points of a story. Let’s say you’re mad for crocheting or knitting and you want to write a drama or a mystery. Perhaps the main character’s obsession with their knitting club leads to problem in the family. Or their frenemy in the knitting club is murdered and the MC needs to figure out “whodunit” and clear their name. But things are not what they seem and the mystery or problem turns out to be knottier than tangled yarn. Feel free to use that one, by the way.
Taking real life events or anecdotes you’ve heard and fictionalizing them is another good way to get your pen moving. You could also write your own memoir in this manner. This would avoid offending involved parties or hurting people’s feelings.
Above all else, don’t underestimate the power of brainstorming. You might be surprised I didn’t mention it before. Don’t worry; I will discuss brainstorming in detail in the next post, so stay tuned.
Overcoming Obstacles in Executing Your Ideas
I usually don’t have trouble coming up with things to write about. My struggle more often lies in the execution. How should I begin this story? What is the setting like? Where are the characters going, who are they fighting, and will there be dragons or spaceships?
As I mentioned before, you can find methods of execution in your favorite media. While reading books or watching movies, ask yourself “how can I tell this type of story in a different way?” Play with genres. For example, you could take a Western–such as The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly–and mix it up with Science Fiction tropes by setting it in outer space. As another twist, you could also change the main characters’ genders.The point is to have some fun with it.
Try a variation on the “what if” exercise from above if you’re stuck on a plot point in your own book. What if your character decided not to visit the apothecary today? Instead, they went to the movies–where they run into their ex? If you find your story is far too short, ask yourself more questions. “What could happen next, if, instead of the hero winning against the villain in their first altercation, the villain triumphed over the hero?” Alternately: “What if the hero’s victory ended up being false or illusory and the battle wasn’t over?”
Another strategy is to switch up your routine or venue. Get off the beaten path and go someplace new, if at all possible. Let’s say your story takes place in the middle of the woods or on a mountainside. Go for a hike in these places and drink in all the sights, sounds, and scents–just make sure you bring along a convenient means of taking notes. Let’s say your problem involves writing about a different, unfamiliar culture. Try spending some time immersed in that culture. You could either go among the people or consume media about the culture.
Changing your writing medium can also jump start your creative life. If you typically write on a word processor, switch to the old school method of pen and paper (or vice versa).
Another handy trick is to find a sounding board. Some people need to verbalize aloud and talk through a problem to solve it. Bouncing your ideas off a trusted individual can lead you to an epiphany. In the absence of a friend, jabber away into an audio recording device until you connect all your plot dots.
Also, don’t forget to beta-test the “gist” of your story on trusted friends. They can tell you whether your idea is compelling enough to go forward. They may also have ways for you to improve on it or work through a tricky plot point. Joining a writer’s group really helped me with the latter problem.
Prayer and meditation may also prove useful. If you’re a Christian, then pray for God’s help before beginning any venture. If you’re writing for His glory, as I try to do, he will help you according to his will. Is guilt or some other powerful emotion blocking you? If you need to confess or reconcile with someone, then do so. It could remove a heavy burden from your shoulders.
Otherwise, you could channel powerful feelings to fuel your writing. Keeping a journal or a diary will get you into the habit of writing consistently and honing your craft. Perhaps writing about your life and reflections of events will help jar loose ideas for a story. As an added benefit, journaling could help you work through a real-life problem.
Well, my friends, that’s all I have for today. I was going to address how diligent preparation can vanquish Writer’s Block, but that will have to wait until…
Next time, I’ll dive deeper into the causes of that Dread Barrier–Writer’s Block–and how to overcome it.
In the meantime, feel free to ask questions or drop suggestions for topics in the comments.