How I Get Ideas

I often use terms like “brainstorm” when talking about the writing process. Putting words to computer screen only happens if there’s a crapload of activity swarming around in your brain. Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, there needs to be something going on up there before you open a text document. Thinking about your future best-seller is just as important as the physical act of writing it.

So how does an aspiring writer* get the proverbial juices flowing? Where do great ideas come from? (*IMO, the phrase “aspiring writer” is a misnomer. If you create a story, you’re a writer. People should say “aspiring author” in reference to someone who wishes to be published.)

In my limited experience, there are two parts to this answer.

Inspiration

Inspiration can be a good angel or a bad angel. It’s a good angel when you’re really stuck and have no clue what the hell to write. It’s a bad angel when you’re midway through a novel and a shiny new story idea distracts you from a project you’ve been working on for months. We’ll address the positive aspects of inspiration here.

You can harvest ideas from literally anywhere, and I do mean literally. The trick is opening your mind to them. While you’re out in the world, working at your day job, spending time with friends or family, listen to what’s going on around you. The same applies when you read a book or watch TV. My own novel-in-progress combines elements of shows I’ve loved over the years. (Mostly Disney Channel’s So Weird, a show with a permanent place in my heart. There’s also some of the dynamic from  ABC’s Castle, and the premise will probably make people think of X-Files.)

So when you’re not writing, grab on to anything interesting and expand on it in your thoughts. Add a plot line, characters, settings, themes. I picture the process as a Rubik’s Cube, where you have to move all the pieces around until they finally click together. When a scene takes shape (any scene, not necessarily the first one) you’re off and running.

Playing Twenty-Or-More Questions (Or, How to Drag Yourself Out of Writer’s Bock)

This is a technique I use when my surroundings don’t feel particularly inspiring. I’m the type to ask myself the tough questions when things aren’t going right, so I apply this to my writing. It’s also a great way to pull a story idea from thin air.

For starters I’ll ask myself these types of questions:

What do I want to write about? (Can mean anything – person, place, theme.)

What story line would fit that topic?

Which characters would best demonstrate what I want to say?

Am I in the mood to write something light or dark in tone?

Which genre appeals to me right now?

Answering those questions always gets the ball rolling. When I inevitably hit a wall after the first few chapters, the questions become a little more difficult.

Why am I stuck?

If I don’t want to write the next scene, why is that? 

What can I change?

Does this story suck and I haven’t realized it yet? (Ignore that one.)

Where do I want the story to go?

Keep playing the game until something breaks loose. The only way to defeat “writer’s block” is to think long and hard about why you’re not writing.

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My So-Called “Writer’s Block”

It could be argued that I’ve recently had a bad case of “writer’s block.” For the last few weeks I haven’t added to my current Work-In-Progress, or if I did, it was maybe a paragraph at a time. The problem wasn’t my story because I knew I liked the concept. What troubled me was that I didn’t write anything else either. No other story or even fanfiction appealed to me for what seemed like almost a month.

I think the cause might have been stress. Yes, like any true millennial I live with my family (sarcasm, people), but I was still losing my job. I pay for all my own expenses like car insurance, student loans and my smartphone plan (I constantly offer to pay rent but Mom doesn’t take it since I save every penny). Plus I found out about that two-consecutive-knee surgeries thing right around the time my boss announced the doors were closing. I can usually keep my eye on the goal of fixing my knees, but surgery and recuperation never sounds like fun.

Eventually, at night when I finally settled down on the couch, I’d take a nap even though I’d wanted to write. Or I wouldn’t have enough concentration. “Depression” isn’t the word but “stress” definitely is.

When I get in these modes I start to worry: “What if I never write again? What if I never get my groove back?” This time around, blogging gave me my groove back. The rush of churning out long posts reminded me that I’m a writer, damn it. Sit your ass down in front of that text document and write.

Finally today I wrote more than a page of my WIP. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much but it was a lot for me, and it feels good.

I think “writer’s block” should be called “writer’s break” instead. There is no mystical anti-muse preventing you from writing. For whatever reason, your mind has decided that you need to step back from whatever you’re working on and deal with other things for a while. The trick is when you start to miss writing, sit your ass down and write something even if it’s not the novel that will make you famous. Pretty soon you’ll be ready to resume your regularly-scheduled project…if you haven’t moved onto something else by then. And that’s okay too.