By: Beverly Peders
All writers know there is nothing worse than drawing a blank. While “writer’s block” covers a lot of different road blocks in writing, I think one of the most detrimental is lack of inspiration. It can happen to anyone and at any time. There are several factors to it, some unavoidable, but there are many ways to get yourself out of the rut and back into the groove of writing.
Here are a few tried and true ones that help me:
Switch Things Up
Sometimes the biggest problem is what used to be the best solution: routines. I love routines and find them perfect at keeping me on track, but every now and then, I become bored of them and thus unable to focus on my writing. This is a good time to go out or try something new. It can be anything from trying a new tea or from rearranging your writing space. Maybe even take the day off and explore your surrounding neighborhood. Take your writing with you in thought, but attempt to take a small break as much as you can and breathe in these new experiences.
Go Old School
While definitely a common source of information for a lot of people, if you dive into a local or international newspaper with an eye out for different angles, you may emerge with a unique idea. Check out everything from the obituaries to sports, keeping your mind open to receive anything. It could be how the writer phrased something or an interesting take on a common topic. Maybe there’s a small, almost insignificant column that covers an important story or topic that you may find deserves a larger audience. You can find newspapers in libraries or pay for them at newsstands. Online subscriptions, like for the New York Times, range from $1.88 to $3.11 a week.
Check It Out
Just wandering through a library and reading the spines always seems to give my brain a jolt. Whether I know what I want to look for or I just scan the shelves for what feels best, I always walk away with an armful of books that bring weeks of ideas and inspirations flooding in. From poetry to nonfiction, it doesn’t have to relate to the theme or genre of your writing to dust off your idea generators. I find dictionaries or collections to be the best at providing a variation to jump start my brain. Collections of quotes, slang, symbols, imagery, and it doesn’t matter if its current either. Go give your library card some TLC and enjoy that old book smell!
Free your Writing
Sometimes it’s not taking a break from writing but running head on at it that removes the block. Either grab your laptop or an old-fashioned notebook if you’re hardcore and immune to cramps and write. Don’t stop. If you run out of material, repeat the last word you wrote until something else to write pops up. Write about anything or write about the problem in you’re having in your story. This consistent writing and, as my friends call it, “word vomit” it should shake loose ideas or concepts you forgot you had or maybe never considered and now was the time to test them out. Only stop when you’re satisfied or your wrist cramps. You don’t have to write fast. You can write in print or if you want to work on your fancy cursive, you can work agonizingly slow on your words, but the goal is to not stop.
I never liked to read magazines, but I love to flip through them. Advertisements try to tell stories visually in magazines and I find it fun to try to decipher what they are or come up with alternative stories. Models are the characters that you can create loose backgrounds for and mix and match personalities and hobbies with. Make these characters absurd or realistic, it’s up to you. While this is more of an exercise, it’s also something you can do just about anywhere since it’s harder to find somewhere without ads nowadays. The subway, billboards, internet, waiting rooms, pretty much anywhere you might yourself looking in a day.
If advertisements aren’t your style, there’s always fine and contemporary art in museums. Upon visiting you might find that there’s more than displays in any museum. Whether it’s a science, history, art, or niche museum, there’s always the architecture, other people, and conversations to eavesdrop on. Enjoying what the museums have to offer is just one way to gain ideas, but there are multiple levels to what you can do. You may like the painting, but have you looked at the frame? The little girl enjoying the dinosaur exhibit might want to be a paleontologist when she grows up or that display of antique train sets doesn’t know that it’s encased in a plastic box on display. Do the marble busts ever discuss after hours about how they lost the rest of their bodies? The possibilities are endless. Not to mention, getting away from your laptop and unplugging for a bit might give your mind the perfect vacation.
Whether you’re going to the gelato store across town for their newest flavor or taking a road trip to see the aurora borealis, getting outside and giving yourself a new objective might be just what your story needs. You can travel inspired by your current story or try something completely different to shake things up. Writing about crime in New Orleans? Try an authentic cajun place or go visit it! For those working on strict budgets, the best might just be the next city over or a walk through the rural farmland, but anything can happen that could inspire. Just remember to stay safe and check the weather before you go. It wouldn’t do to get caught at a beach in the rain.
This may sound silly since, at least in my case, my dreams are incoherent messes that fade once my eyes open, but sometimes I can pick a few details that really stuck with me and write them down. For those who have many dreams, a dream journal might be a good investment, however I simply use my regular writing idea journal to store my dreams. Sometimes, if I fall asleep having worked on a story all day, it seeps into my dream. While nothing usually makes sense, I like to think of them as dots that need connecting. Just flesh out the simple structure of minute ideas it gives and maybe there will be something to work into your story later. I’m not suggesting breakthrough ideas, but if you have enough rain drops you can make a flood.
This is usually my first go-to. As I accumulate more new songs, I sort them into playlists based on my current stories I’m working on. This works best on Spotify (since I use it free), but you can create playlists on iTunes and Amazon Prime Music too. Pandora works (also free), but instead of storing songs, it uses those as suggestions for forming a themed playlist. This is most helpful when you need new music inspiration. If you want to know more about my music selections, especially if you want ideas by genre, check out my first article, Best Music to Write to (By Genre). Whether you listen to your playlist while writing or while in the shower, music can help you visualize your writing better. Any repetitive activity like running or doing the dishes coupled with music can help your mind slip into daydream mode where great ideas can be found.
Catch up with some friends and discuss any range of topics that can include your problems in writing or anything but to help reset your mind. You can grab a friend for a road trip for a change of scenery and conversation or just for juicy details of what they’ve been up to which might be something useable. This isn’t limited to friends, call your mom or other family members. Do your grandparents have incredible stories? Did your sister just get back from her trip to New Zealand? Almost any topic is ripe for idea picking if you look at them from different angles and keep your mind open.
From going on a hike through the park to going for a drive, cut yourself off from the internet if you find that a big distraction. Take a notebook in case those ideas hit and you wish to ignore your tech. Go to the zoo or find a landmark you’ve always wanted to visit and enjoy these without cameras, social media, and texts getting in the way. Now, the internet can be a great inspiration, in fact I some of the Best Online Tools for Screenwriters, but saturation can cause blockage. The internet is a rabbit hole easily sucked into so a break once and awhile can really help refresh your mind.
If you want to give your eyes a rest for a while, download some podcasts or audiobooks onto your smartphone and do something else. While immersing yourself in a sci-fi novel or a how-to that goes into depth about screenwriting, you can get some chores done around the house you’ve neglected while staring at your screen. Perhaps you can relax with a romance while you bake a pecan pie or take notes on a podcast about the history of stamps. Whether you want to continue exploring other avenues of your story or wish to take a break to revive your mind, sometimes giving your mind something to visualize without having to read too can be just the ticket.
Ditch the digital and grab a trusty pencil, notebook, and if you’re really into it maybe even a whiteboard and markers. Start charting things and writing things out in ways that may not make sense, but might spark ideas. Do character pages going into more depth with your character than you’re probably going to describe or a timeline of your story and what happened prior and after whether or not you’ll cover it. If it helps, get a cork board, thumbtacks, and yarn and make those web-like connecting charts that look super cool. Draw something. Buy a lockpick set and learn what it feels like. Immerse yourself in your story by surrounding yourself with papers marked in different color ink. Print out your story and don’t be afraid to mark it up. Buy fancy gel pens or a fountain pen and make it ceremonious. Know what 50+ pages looks and feels like. It’s more than just an eternity to scroll through, it’s a testament to your achievement. A good flip through could unearth some old buried ideas or unfinished thoughts you can use to guide your way through your blockade.
Read and Weep
The usual go-to I left for the end. Of course, I covered books a little when I mentioned library visits and even a shout out to audiobooks, but here’s where we really get into it. For me, I tend to read a lot of nonfiction in research for stories that a good way for me to get inspired or reset my overworked mind is to read some fiction. Usually I choose a genre that I’m currently working in, but breaking outside your genre helps to get the ideas flowing again just as well. Even though I tend to avoid anything labelled “how to get ideas” because being caught reading it might hurt my pride, I found The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron interesting and helpful. My sister got me 642 Things to Write About which I find less helpful, but sometimes a good rifle through it can give me some ideas.
Don’t let an idea drought keep you down or make you embarrassed, it happens to every writer. I usually have to spend hours or days consulting my whiteboard and sprawling papers out in front of me on the ground to figure out how to proceed. The best way to get through it is to acknowledge it. If you sit at your computer typing one word per hour, it’s about time to begin planning how to dig yourself out not keep digging your grave.