*Last updated on 8/17/21*
Writing for the first time is the most exhilarating feeling in the world. You're full of bubbling excitement, practically bursting with creative energy and the zeal behind a new idea. You can't wait to sit down and type it all out, explore your new world, interview your characters, and dive straight into the plotline. Many would-be writers want to write. Few succeed.
Many new writers quit within the first few chapters of their draft. Why? They lack the knowledge necessary to continue. Some are surprised by the challenges that come when the writing gets tough. Others balk at the time commitment, and more still simply don't know how to develop their idea or whether it's worth committing to in general.
Sound familiar? This post is for you! Today we're exploring the common questions that arise when you first start writing.
1. Where Do Ideas Come From?
The short answer is anywhere and everywhere. The options are endless. The long answer is that there's many sources you can draw from. The first step is to go back to the drawing board and ask yourself why you're feeling uninspired. It could be because of burn out, daily life getting in the way, the fear of failure, or a lack of inspiration/ideas. When a lack of creativity is the issue, rely on these alternatives to try and refresh your mind.
Books: The more you read, the more you are expanding your view of what's possible. You'll see what other writers are doing, how they are doing it, as well as elements of scenery, characters, and plots that can spark an idea of your own. Mixing up your reading list can be beneficial. If you normally read fiction, read a biography instead. If you normally prefer romance, try a self-help book. By switching your genre it takes you out of your comfort zone and can give you a new perspective to work with.
Writing Prompts: These are a handy and effective way of breaking writer's block and generating new ideas. They give you the foundation of an idea and then leave the rest to your imagination. You can find them for free online, or purchase one such as 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More by Bryn Donovan. They're also useful tools to use if you're aiming to write short stories, as the formatting is meant to spark quick ideas.
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Classes/Workshops/Writing Groups: If you're the type of writer who needs more structure, or if you're completely new and are looking for guidance and support, there are many options to choose from. In-person classes and workshops are typically provided by universities and community colleges, though plenty of online writing communities offer them as well. Tap into writing groups on Facebook and other social media websites to reap the same benefits for free. Writing conferences provide a unique experience because they give you a secluded place to work on your book, as well as feedback. Your peers and instructor critique your work and can help you brainstorm and get past writer's block. They can be quite costly however, so an affordable alternative is stage your own mock retreat. Book a hotel room to write in for the weekend. Then have your online writing friends provide the feedback post-retreat.
Travel: Traveling is a wonderful way to come up with new ideas. Not only do you get to go somewhere new, but the wealth that comes from experiencing new surroundings and people can lead to some promising ideas. Can't afford a vacation? On a smaller scale, you can find places in your hometown that you haven't been to before and go out for the afternoon. It can be anywhere- a farmer's market, coffee shop, that new bookstore you've been longing to visit, or even spending time outdoors in your local park. Sometimes all you need is a simple change of scenery.
People: People are great because they're an endless supply of inspiration. Having or listening to conversations, people-watching, brainstorming with a fellow writer, watching children play, and learning about someone else's life story or interests are all excellent ways to glean insight into the human experience. Along with people themselves, you can also use history, culture, science, and current events to help stimulate your mind.
Personal Experiences: You can also use your own personal experiences to generate inspiration for your writing. Maybe there's an experience you had as a child that you still vividly remember? Perhaps a family holiday would make a humorous short story. Even bringing in elements of people you know into your characters to help flesh them out or adding certain life events into your plotline can help carry your story further.
"What If" Questions: Great for when you've hit a wall in the middle of a story, look at whatever topic or character you're working with and come up with a list of "what if's". What if this event happened? What if the character made this choice? What about the opposite? How would it affect the overall outcome of the story? How would the character react? Explore any and all "what if" options that pop into your head. It's questions like these that often produce the most interesting results.
2. How Do I Come Up With A Character Name Or A Title?
This one is a pretty easy fix. There are a bunch of different generators online that can help you come up with character names, settings, titles, and even ideas in general. Fantasy Name Generators provides a wide range of inspiration to use as a baseline. This one is killer because it has numerous options, language specifications, and even fantasy elements to choose from.
Another option is baby name lists online. These are extremely helpful for when you're looking for that perfect character name, but aren't finding it anywhere else. You can search Google for a specific gender, meaning, or even something vague like "cool or trendy girl names". Hundreds of results will pop up, waiting for you to pick and choose.
The Only Character Workbook You'll Ever Need: Your New Character Bible
Become a master of incredible characters. In this first installment of Series Bibles for Writers, discover the backstories, personalities, vulnerabilities, and what makes your fiction characters tick.
Keeping a names list in a notebook (or more conveniently in a phone notebook app such as Writer) is a great resource you can create to assist yourself in the future. All you have to do is write down names you like that you've come across in passing and save them for later. This can be the actual name of a person, something from movie credits or something said in a show, a book, or even a street sign. You can also take pieces of names and combine them with others for a more unique moniker.
3. How do you know when you've got a good idea?
At this stage you're only brainstorming, so anything goes. Every idea is a GOOD idea. Just have fun and create. As we move forward in the development process it'll become clear whether your idea or parts of it actually work for your overall story or not. The best way to determine whether or not you've found a good idea is to ask yourself: Do I like it? Can I see myself moving forward with it? If the answer is yes, you've found your idea!
4. How Do I Develop My Idea Once I Have One?
The process of developing your idea comes with multiple steps. The brief version is that once you have an idea in your head, the first step is to write it down in it's completion. Get it on the page and don't worry if it's messy or doesn't make sense. Focus on the who, what, where, when, and why. Soon enough you'll start to see your idea take shape into a story. Once you have the gist you can move on to the development phase where you polish your idea into an outline, develop your characters, and create your setting through worldbuilding.
To get you started, here are several posts covering these topics:
Character 101: An Introduction
Building Setting: An Introduction to Crafting Scenery
Plotline Planning 101: Introduction
Plotline 101: How to Create A Basic Outline
5. How Do I Overcome Writer's Block?
Writing block affects each writer differently. There are many ways that you can break your block and refresh your muse, but first you must identify what is causing your lack of motivation to write. Typically there are three main causes:
1) You've just started your story and don't know where to go next with your idea.
If this sounds like you, don't worry. Refer to the links in #4. These will get you up to speed and guide you through the development process. There's a lot of work to be done, but it helps if you know what you're in for and where to get started. In the meantime keep developing what you can. Right now your story is brand new. Think about where you'd like to see it go and start working on coming up with your characters.
The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain
Why is it that some writers struggle for months to come up with the perfect sentence or phrase while others, hunched over a keyboard deep into the night, seem unable to stop writing? In The Midnight Disease, neurologist Alice W. Flaherty explores the mysteries of literary creativity: the drive to write, what sparks it, and what extinguishes it.
2) You're about ten to twelve chapters in and suddenly find yourself running out of steam or you don't know where to take the story next.
You're still relatively new to the story-writing process, but have established a setting, characters, and a general direction you want your plotline to go in. The initial inspiration and enthusiasm has tapered off and it's begun to dawn on you how daunting writing a book can be. This is the most likely spot where writers stop writing and give up. DON'T! Stick with it. Go back to the drawing board if you need new ideas, ask yourself those "what if" questions, and don't be afraid to completely scrap a chapter if you feel you need to.
3) You're near the middle to end of your story (or you're writing your manuscript for the umpteenth time) and you're sick of it.
After writing and re-writing your story multiple times you start to hate your own work. You get bored. You can no longer tell what needs to change or what needs editing further. You really REALLY want to chuck it at the wall and be done with it forever. Sound familiar? If it does, then the best thing you can do for yourself and your manuscript is to take a break. Whether that break is two weeks or two months doesn't matter. Eventually you'll start to feel the urge to write come back again, and when it does, you'll pick your manuscript back up where you left off with clearer eyes. In the meantime, catch up on the other things in your life that you may have neglected while you were busy writing.
6. Is There Such A Thing As Creating Too Much?
Absolutely. But it depends on where you are in the development process. In the beginning you're trying to come up with something solid so you need to go a little crazy and explore all the options you can come up with. If you're in the middle or are in an even later editing phase, then yes, unfortunately it is possible to go overboard. This is because your focus should be on what you're trying to accomplish, which is creating a comprehensive plotline and story that make sense. How can you tell if you're over-creating? If you've lost sight of why you're creating (which is to write a book) and find yourself caught up in the creative details, then you probably need to stop and refocus.
No matter if you're new to the writing process or suffering from writer's block, ideas and inspiration are the foundation of a good story. If you look hard enough, you'll find inspiration everywhere but it never hurts to have someone else steer you in the right direction. If you found this article helpful, please take a moment to subscribe. You'll receive an email alert every time a new blog post is released. Writing is a solitary sport, but it doesn't have to be. Let's achieve our goals together.
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