So far this month, I’ve spent a lot of time working on getting my writing groove back. I went about four months avoiding writing anything new, and toiling over finished projects but never ever really getting anything done. Work was crazy, personal life stuff was crazy, more work stuff was crazy, I was busy. Day after day, there was some reason why I couldn’t sit down and write. Maybe tomorrow. But in the end, these were all just excuses. I needed to take ownership of my own writing, my own career, and I needed to get stuff done!
So now that I’m finally back into writing on a regular basis, I’m starting to look at all of the excuses I was telling myself about why I wasn’t writing and breaking them down as best as I can, in hopes of stopping my next writing slump before it even starts.
Excuse #1 – I don’t have any ideas!
I find that hard to believe. We all have ideas. We have them all the time. Ideas are the easy part. Full blown plots, not so much, but that initial idea. Where we tend to get stuck is in not exploring them. You can’t write a book based off of a snippet of a dream you only half-remember, but that’s a start. You need to start acknowledging ideas as they come into your head, writing them down, fleshing them out. You can even combine them to form better ideas. If you’ve got something, anything really, figure out a few different directions you could take that idea in, and then build from the one that gets you most excited to sit down and write.
But if you’re looking for an idea right now and can’t think of anything, try making a list of some of your favorite books, shows, movies, songs, games… whatever! And start picking out some common elements. Find two things that always make you want to try out a story, maybe three. For me, I always love stories about siblings, shapeshifters, archery. I can think of more, and you probably can to. Now combine these ideas and run with whatever the first plausible plot that pops into your head is. That’s an idea, see where it takes you.
Plan B? Try writing fan fiction. It can be a great option when you don’t think you have any ideas because you don’t need to worry about most of the bigger picture stuff. Take characters and a world you already know (they don’t even have to come from the same fiction universe) and start writing a story that you as a fan would love to read. Fan fiction is great exercise for a writer’s brain, and before you know it, you’ll be coming up with ideas that can stand on their own with characters you created yourself.
And what about when you’re already mid-story, but you’ve hit a wall and have no idea how to move your characters forward. Well, it’s not much fun to hear, but you probably need to go back and change something you’ve already written. Add more tension, have a character make a different decision, have something go horribly wrong. Backtrack as far as you need to and play around with it, just because it’s the first thing you wrote down doesn’t make it the right answer. And yes, people will argue that you need to finish a draft before you go back and mess around with it, but sometimes your story just isn’t working and you need to do whatever you have to to get that going again!
Once you get to the point where you have to admit to yourself that yes, you do have ideas, you’ll want to start writing them down. I use Evernote for this, in a notebook I call THE IDEA VAULT, which makes it sound way more exciting than it is. Sometimes all I have is a title, but there are currently eighteen ideas in that folder, in varying states of usefulness. But even if I don’t get around to writing all of them there, getting in the habit of saving the parts of each idea that I do know has been invaluable. You never know when you can find a home for a plot or character in a story that it didn’t originally belong to, and you never know when an idea is going to reach critical mass when all of a sudden you have to write this right now because everything is falling into place. Maybe the best ideas are the ones that stay in your head on their own, but maybe not. But the next time you feel like you don’t have any ideas, open that folder up and remind yourself of all the stories you’re excited to start writing.