Sometimes words just don’t happen. You sit down to work on the next great American novel, or a blog post, or whatever and you just stare at a blank page. Maybe after a while you start doodling some sort of abstract geometric design or you start writing your name over and over until you no longer recognize it. Sometimes your inner critic won’t shut up enough to let you begin… Sometimes you just need a break… we can’t all be a Nora Roberts – Originally Stephen King was going to be my example, but Nora Roberts has published like 200 novels… I mean sure they’re probably pretty formulaic but that’s like 3 novels a year for her whole life… and that’s including infancy… it’s insane… did you know Nora Roberts is J. D. Robb? How did I not know that? Anyways…
Procrastination happens. But, it doesn’t have to be curling up on the couch and re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the third time this year (For fuck’s sake it is February, Tia)… There’s plenty of ways that you can procrastinate and improve your writing – or whatever artistic endeavor that you’re avoiding.
I’ll use Stephen King as an example this time, in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft King, says something like “if you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.” Fiction is pretty much entirely derivative, that’s why there’s hundreds of books on master plots and the Hero’s Journey. So, if you’re lacking inspiration pick up book and read. Or pick up a newspaper and read the headlines, I guarantee there will be something that catches your eye, even if it’s just a name in the obits. (Also the Newspaper industry will thank you… )
Go to a library and pick out a book in a genre you don’t usually read. Read fiction, read non-fiction, you never know when you’ll pick up a random book that inspires you to write an amazing hip-hop infused Broadway musical about America’s founding fathers that has been playing on repeat in my head literally for days.
And even, if reading doesn’t cause a sudden great burst of inspiration it’s still incredibly helpful. I have a minor issue of hoarding books about writing, but the best way to learn about story structure, is to read stories. Read lots of them pick favorites and when you get stuck in your plot see how others stories moved on from that point. The best way to learn about what makes well-rounded characters is to read stories with full developed characters AND to read stories with not so developed characters. Compare and contrast, figure out how undeveloped characters could be improved… there might be a story there see pretty much anything by Gregory McGuire.
In short. Read. Reading is good.
To quote the great scholar Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy…” A lot of time when I have trouble finding words it’s because of my inner critic refusing to shut up, I find one way to remedy that is to suffocate her through some sort of intense cardio exercise. My current cardio exercise of choice is kick-boxing which has the added benefit of hitting things which is nice.
I can’t say I’ve ever been inspired by exercise, but it’s a good way to wake your mind up. After a work out, I automatically feel more productive and ideas just come easier. I’m sure there are reasons scientifically for that, I usually just go with the previously mentioned Legally Blonde quote…
Exercise is also a good time to catch up your backlist of Podcasts, I’m currently catching up on Buffering right now, if your looking for suggestions. Also, if you don’t mind ugly crying while working out, I have to recommend the App Zombies Run!. It’s written primarily by Naomi Alderman, who also wrote The Power, which is a novel about how society and gender would change if women suddenly had the power to generate electric shocks. It’s good stuff.
3) Go into the World
So… I’m pretty much the textbook definition of a recluse, there have literally been month long stretches where the only reason I leave my house is for work and food. Generally, I’m perfectly content when left to my own devices… but at the end of the day writing, if you’re writing for an audience at least, is really a social activity. No one wants to read a story about a girl who sits at home re-reading Harry Potter and performing Hamilton in a cat onesie for a captive audience of her dogs. It sounds like a perfectly nice day, but a perfectly nice day lacks drama and conflict and both are pretty essential in good story telling.
So, go out. Explore the world. Do you have a character who is a singer? Go check out a local band, or better yet go sing Karaoke and feel that terrifying burst of adrenaline for yourself. Everyone’s heard the advice to “Write what you know,” well nothing’s stopping you from “Getting to know what you want to write.” First hand experience can help you know your character’s feelings and motivations more than a google search. At the end of the day, if nothing else, you’ll have an interesting story for your own personal narrative.
If you’re having trouble coming up with an idea, go to a bar and listen to the conversations around you, or better yet actually interact with the other patrons. Go to a show. Go camping. Get out of your comfort zone, if inspiration hasn’t struck there it probably isn’t going to. Don’t sit at home praying for your Muse to stop by, go out and find the Bastard.