I’ve been struggling with this post (and writing in general) for quite some time and I finally got around to saying to myself ‘Sit your ass down and get it written.’ Well, that worked better than expected 😀
It turns out that the most common reason for not being able to write – which applies to me and many, many others – is the lack of ideas or inspiration. Some have a hard time starting their story, others write themselves in the corner, others write without a problem but struggle with making the story come to life.
The trick is to find something that makes you fall in love with that story so bad that you wish to push on no matter what. Maybe you find the perfect drawing/picture for your MC. Maybe you think of a mind-blowing plot twist or why not a whole language or species? Or maybe you just need to find something to get the cogs turning so you can get out of the hole you dug yourself into.
Everybody has their own thing – something that always inspires them, something that puts them in the mood for writing. If you’re lucky, you have learned consistency and you can sit down and write every day, with or without inspiration. If you’re like me, well then, you’ll need a bit more to get started.
Here are the top ten things that help me get my head in the story:
This one has always worked for me. I usually write at home, comfortably sitting on the sofa or in front of the kitchen table – with all the free time in the world. But nothing comes.
So I decided to try and write somewhere else.
This is a bit tricky because you can’t just bring your laptop everywhere and you can’t stay there for hours. You need electricity (even if your laptop’s battery is awesome), you will probably need some food and drinks. So you have to find a cafe like Starbucks or Costa or even your local cafe if they will let you write there.
I found my writing den at Costa Cafe which is on the main street in the center of my city. You can sit in the back and have some privacy while you work. Or you can sit by the front window and watch people or enjoy the sun while writing your next chapter. Every time I go there I end up with twice as many pages in twice as little time. I definitely recommend.
I used to fool myself that I mustn’t read books in my genre since I didn’t want to unconsciously steal ideas and I wanted to develop my own voice. This is the worse disservice you can do to yourself.
Writers need to read. This is the only rule you can’t break. You don’t read to become like the other authors, you read to understand what works and what doesn’t; how the pace makes or breaks a story; how to develop characters organically so they make sense and your readers love them. And last but not least — you read to be entertained.
From time to time you need to take off your writer’s pants and snuggle in your reader’s pajamas. You’ll be surprised how easily your imagination will come to life when you get lost into a new world. Yes, maybe you’ll find scenes and ideas so awesome you would want to put them in your book. And maybe you can use some of them for your story — it’s impossible to write a completely original book. Everything you can think of has already been thought of and told in some form. The point is not to come with a completely new idea but to make old ideas sound new again.
I know this comes dangerously close to procrastination but it’s not when you don’t overdo it. And if nothing else helps, you have to find something to inspire you again…
What I personally do when I’m stuck is re-watch movies that previously inspired me (and that I liked enough to watch more than once) or find new TV shows with an interesting storyline, particularly in the genre I’m writing in. You’ll be surprised how many twists and plot ideas you can get from there. And it’s okay to use those but be sure to make them your own and most importantly – be sure that they fit your characters and your story. Don’t do it for the big reveal or flashy moments. Do it because it’s the most natural progression or because it is something your character needs to do to evolve.
Visual stimulation is my greatest inspiration. For me, it may be anything — a person I meet on the street, an unusual sight, a picture, a drawing or a sculpture. Any kind of art usually gets my creative juices going as long as my weird mind connects it in some way to a story.
Often, when I go out to write I sit by the street window in the cafe and spend some time watching people. Their interactions, facial expressions and even movements help me write realistic characters.
The next thing I turn to are sites like Pinterest and Tumblr or even Google itself. I’ve spent hours and hours on them looking at pictures, ideas and portraits for my characters so I can easily describe them in a way that will make them even more vivid for the reader. Sometimes, I browse through them for new ideas. Most of my plots have begun with a picture of a character, place or even an object. My mind needs little to get started and once it gets it on with the writing we go.
Most of us have playlists made for a particular story. I know I do. And when I write on this story I put on that playlist and in 99% of the time, it gets me in the right mind frame.
The trouble is that eventually those songs are going to become annoying or lose their power and then you’ll need something new. So I recommend spending some time on YouTube or Spotify just browsing through songs you’ve never listened to before. Start with a song you like or one that relates to your story in some way. YouTube will give you suggestions – check them out. Save the ones you like, skip the ones you don’t. (Damn I just sounded like the lady from the Spotify commercial). Even if a song doesn’t go well with the current story save it in another playlist. You’ll eventually finish this story and you’ll need inspiration for another one. Recycle your inspiration as much as you can — you’ll be surprised by the results.
Finding a writing buddy is a great idea. First, because you’ll get support and encouragement when you need them and second because you’ll feel accountable and you’ll try harder to put in the work.
The best option would be to find somebody from your city and write together in person. After the initial excitement and getting used to one another, you’ll be able to spend hours not talking and just working on your books without being weird. If you can’t find somebody close by then find somebody online.
This person doesn’t have to be somebody that has read your work. But it is advisable to be a writer so they understand the whole process and can help with brainstorming if you hit a wall. And most importantly, they must be at least as committed as you are because there is nothing worse than you being excited and inspired to write and them talking nonstop and distracting you.
Sometimes nothing helps getting you to write. Not your favorite music, not your favorite writing spot or a collage of your character’s portraits. I know the feeling — it’s the worst.
What I do when I hit such a roadblock is to get rid of everything that can distract me. Bye to my laptop, bye to my home where I can find a hundred things to do, bye to conversation or phone. I grab a notebook and two pens and I get out. The only thing I allow myself is some music — provided you have your social media muted or you listen to it offline. Minimize your distractions.
At first writing by hand would be painfully slow. You may even just stare at the blank page and not write anything for a while. That’s okay. Let your mind go places, let it get bored. Because what do you do when you’re bored and you have nothing to distract yourself with? You think. And if you’re a writer as you claim then the first thing you’ll think about is your book. Maybe you’ll think about your favorite scene, or maybe about some plothole you noticed when re-reading, or maybe you’ll think of a cool new scene. Once you get there, let your hand do its thing and keep your mind wandering.
When I say talk to your characters I mean literally. I have a series called ‘Remnants’ and the second book is titled ‘Remnants of Souls’. I had some hard time writing it, for some reason it wasn’t moving forward properly, and I realized it was because I didn’t understand and see eye to eye with some of my characters.
So I put the book aside and wrote down a few interviews with the main characters. You treat them like real people – if you’ve done your job right they will be just real enough – and you ask them the questions you don’t have the answers to; or even ones that you think you know. Then you let your inner schizophrenic out and answer from their point of view. It’s not only fun but it is a tremendously enlightening. Not to mention that you can later use those ‘interviews’ as extras for your followers when you publish that book.
You can try writing scenes with them that have no place in your book — something from their past or future; a dream or even something from a parallel universe. The idea is to understand what kind of person they are, how they react, why they do what they do and think the way they think. Once you know them well enough you’ll have no trouble finding ways to motivate them.
Getting stuck on a scene or a concept is something every writer runs into at least once a book. If you’re like me, you’ll run into that wall every few chapters. It’s not that I am such bad at planning (at least I hope) but I am constantly thinking of new cool ways the story can go: new scenes to add; new characters to create. And sometimes those ideas are conflicting hence putting me in the tight spot.
Brainstorming can happen in two ways. The first way, and the one I usually choose because I prefer working alone, is to write a full plan for your story. I know that for you pantsers this is not an option but I am a planner so…
You can always change things along the way but the idea is to write the whole plotline, develop it and find a proper ending. Then you can see if the changes you have in mind can work without changing absolutely everything. If you’re not ready to commit to a plot you can write each scene on a post-it note or a card and just line them up and re-arrange them until you’re happy with the outcome.
The other option is to use a friend or another writer to brainstorm. The good thing with this is that they will bring a new, fresh perspective and that can spring ideas within you which can resolve your problems. The bad thing is that they have a different way of thinking than you and the ideas they give you may be confusing or completely inadequate for your vision of the story. So be careful when you pick your buddy for brainstorming.
I bet every book about writing you’ve read told you never to re-read or edit your work until you’re finished. This is absolutely true if you can manage it — it’s hard to finish something when you keep going back.
But if you put the editing aside sometimes you have no other options but to go back and re-read. Why, you ask?
First, because you’ll get excited anew for the story. When you began writing it you had an idea, you had vigor and you probably spent a few long, sleepless nights imagining the whole story, the characters, the landscapes. Re-reading it will take you back to that state of mind.
Second, if you had spent a long time away from the story you are bound to have forgotten some small details from it which were hints or turning points for scenes to come. Once you read them your mind will connect the dots again and you’ll be able to pick it up from where you left it.
Third, you can think of new ways to continue the story. If you have spent some time away from it and you come back you look at it with new eyes. You may have forgotten some of your ideas, you may not like some of the scenes or the characters and you may also decide to take it in an entirely different direction. That’s all great as long as it gets you writing.
How do you find your inspiration? Do you have any tricks for getting back into writing mode once you’ve been out of it for a while? I’d love to hear your stories and suggestions as well.