Writers deal with it all the time. So do artists, artisans, poets, and all sorts of creative types.
What to do when the inspiration won’t come.
I used to wonder this myself, when I was still learning about writing children’s poetry and picture books. When I was younger, I would write about whatever hit me at the moment, and not write anything else until I was inspired again. And it worked fairly well, except for the fact that if one is going to be a professional writer, one usually doesn’t have the luxury of being able to wait around for his or her muse to offer up an idea.
If you’re going to write, you need to write. NOW. You need to find the ideas, work with the words, and get something on paper or on the computer screen whether your muse is available or not. While there are plenty of ways to jumpstart your writing, today I’m sharing five practices that help me.
1) Expose yourself
That is, expose yourself to news and information you wouldn’t normally find interesting. (Although if you really do expose yourself, that probably would open a vast array of new experiences, as well) Next time you’re at the doctor’s office and see a copy of “Popular Phlebotomy” magazine, pick it up and peruse the pages. Who knows what you may learn or be inspired by? If you come across a political website or Facebook page that might promote views opposite to those you hold, read through it and try to see things from another perspective. You might discover a new way of approaching a subject.
You see, these types of things afford us writers a glimpse into lives, worlds, and realities with which we are unfamiliar. Never let an unexpected point of view go to waste!
Yes, I know, you’ve heard this one before, but it really does work – especially if you brainstorm the way I do. Most folks will tell you to pick a subject and write down all the words or phrases you associate with that subject. I’ll do that sometimes, but I prefer going a step beyond.
I’ll pick a subject, then try to come up with as many phrases, ideas, or words that I don’t think have ever been associated with it. Why? Because I want to find unique associations – connections no one has considered before. This is especially useful in writing poetry for adults (as opposed to children’s poetry), where associative leaps are almost de rigueur, an expected element of the poem.
3) Don’t settle
Don’t settle for the first idea that pops in your head. Or the second or third. I’ve written at length about this before, but a big trick to writing creatively and uniquely is by being aware that what you’re writing probably isn’t creative or unique. Chances are, when given the opportunity to write about a subject (whether it’s a story, poem, commercial script, or Facebook comment) the first idea that popped into your head is probably the same first idea that popped into nearly everyone else’s heads.
Never going with your first instinct is a golden rule of comedy writing; it should be one of your rules, as well.
4) Ask yourself, “What if?”
I’ve written at length about this topic, as well, and it bears repeating here because of the power those two words wield. Next time you’re stumped for ideas, consider a variety of “what if” questions:
“What if…peas tasted like chocolate?”
“What if…chocolate tasted like Brussels sprouts?”
“What if…humans are actually domesticated farm animals for aliens?”
“What if…Jesus had children and one of them became president?”
5) Don’t be afraid!
Of what? To create something terrible. To try something different. To walk away. If you end up creating something you dislike, you’ll learn from it; at least it was good practice, right? If you try something different, you’re stretching yourself. And I can’t tell you the power that comes from stepping away from a project for awhile.
I’ve written some of my best poems during the course of a week when I’ve had millions of things to do. I’d write a couple lines, get stuck, and then go have to change a baby or record a commercial. Then I’d go back to it, contemplate some more, and have to step away to do something else. Understand, I’m not implying that you should not be disciplined and focus on your work. I’m a firm believer in the “BIC” Rule (“Butt In Chair,” aka “Do the work!”), espoused by great writers such as Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis.
Rather, taking a break from what you’re writing can allow you to distance yourself from it and come back with a new set of eyes, a new perspective. In fact, I went through at least 4 titles for this blog post (like, “When the muse is out of town,” “When the muse is AWOL,” and a few others) before I settled on the internal rhyme-riddled one you see at the top of this page. Getting unstuck from your writer’s block might take a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few years – but it’ll be well worth it.
There’s more where that came from
There are plenty of other ways to kick start some ideas and get the creativity flowing. These are just the five that seem, to me, to be the most effective. What do you do? Are there any tips you employ to help get you started, or get yourself out of a mental rut? I’d love to hear them! Leave your thoughts in the comments section, and I’ll share them in a separate blog post all their own at a future date – with proper attribution and due credit, of course!
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