While brainstorming this post, I asked myself what I would have wanted to see back when I first started attempting to write. Then I asked myself what would help me the most in my current situation, seeing as how I'm coming up on about a month and a half of writer's block. Turns out that the answer to both of those questions is the same thing: Ideas and inspiration.
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. Whenever I get stuck, I go back to the drawing board and ask myself why I'm 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 in general. When a lack of creativity is the issue, I generally rely on these alternatives to try and refresh my 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 very 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. If you prefer to watch films instead that's fine, they will essentially do the same thing except for the added lessons in writing style and grammar.
Writing Prompts: These are probably the most 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 of the writing prompt books from the bookstore. They're also useful tools to use if you're aiming to write short stories, as the formatting is meant to spark quick ideas.
Classes/Workshops/Writing Groups: I left this one broad because there's a lot of options out there if you're the type of writer who needs more structure, or if you're completely new and are looking for some guided support. Classes and workshops you generally have to pay for as they are provided by universities and writing conferences, but provide a unique experience because they give you automatic feedback on your work. Your peers and instructor critique your work and can help you brainstorm and get past writer's block. If you can't afford one of these, an alternative is to find a local writer's group in your area or join one online.
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 writing. It allows you to relax, refresh, and hopefully discover something new that you'd like to write about or incorporate into your story. Not to mention that it's just plain fun! 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 store you've been longing to visit, or spending some 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 or bookworm, watching children play, and learning about someone else's life story or interests are all some of my favorite 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: This is my personal favorite, particularly when I've hit a wall in the middle of a story. I look at whatever topic or character I'm 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 options that pop into your head! It's questions like these that often produce the most interesting results.
2. What if I need a specific idea like a character name or 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. My favorite one is Fantasy Name Generators (linked below). It's really cool because it has everything I could possible want in one place and even gets more detailed when it comes to cultural and fantasy aspects I may want.
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 last thing I do to come up with names and titles is keep a log of interesting names that I come across on a daily basis. 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. I jot them down in a notebook and keep them as a reference for another time. Sometimes I 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.
4. How do I develop my idea once I have one?
This is a really broad topic that requires a lot more detail than this Q&A. I'll be covering this specifically in a series of posts later on, but for right now the short answer is that it depends on what you're brainstorming. Flesh it out and see where it goes! Use the tools in #1 to keep adding elements as you go. Focus on the who, what, where, when, and why. Soon enough you'll start to see your idea take shape into a story.
4. How do I overcome writer's block?
This is another topic that I will be addressing in more detail in the future. There's a lot of different ways that you can break your block and refresh your muse, but I find that the best way to do this is to identify what is causing your lack of motivation to write. I've narrowed it down to 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! I'll be guiding you through the development process step-by-step. 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.
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. My advice: 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.
This is where I am currently, and let me tell you, it sucks. 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.
5. Is there such a thing as creating too much?
Absolutely. But it depends on where you are in the development process. If you're at the beginning, no. At this stage 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, yes. This is because your focus should be on what you're trying to accomplish, which is a comprehensive plotline and story that make sense. For example, I have this one story idea that I am highly sentimental about. I came up with the idea when I was a child and have carried it with me for years. Over time I never stopped adding to it. Years later, I realized that while I had multiple copies of a detailed map, historical backstory going back all the way to the dawn of civilization, and so many characters that I no longer knew who the protagonist was anymore, that I only had a few short excerpts for an actual story. So how can you tell if you're over creating? If you've lost sight of why you're really 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 using the box below this post! Writing is a solitary sport, but it doesn't have to be. Let's achieve our goals together!
Credits: Big thank you to my sister for serving as the model in this post!