Oh, hello idea. Welcome
You know how it is. You’re not doing anything particularly exciting. Maybe you’re having a shower, or watching TV? Most likely, you’re fast asleep. When KER-CHING! IT happens. An idea strikes. If you’re lucky, it might be the full shebang – beginning, middle, end, characters, plot, imagery. But usually, it tends to be nothing more than a scrap of information. In my humble opinion, this doesn’t matter. However tenuous or vague the concept is, you can be certain there’s something bigger ready to unfold from it. All you need to do is chip away, and eventually, what might seem like a lifeless speck, flashes gloriously in the light. You pick away at the edges, and before your eyes, the core of your idea transforms into gold.
Crawling dry-mouthed through the Sahara of your imagination
It’s hard to explain why sometimes, ideas present themselves in abundance, and at the most unexpected moments. And then, there’s the opposite effect, when your imagination is sparse and you’re desperately scratching around in the dust for things to write about. Most likely, this occurs when you’ve just completed a piece of writing, and you’re primed and eager to throw yourself into the next. There’s fresh paper and ink in the printer, the keyboard’s ready, and you suddenly realise… there’s nothing in your head. Your muse, who’s not left you alone for weeks, not even allowing you to wash up or watch television, has abandoned you. Unless you’ve already got something written down in your handy little notebook (which I advise you to do, in preparation for the many dry times – but more on that later) ideas can be cagey little devils. For me, anyway. I know some writers’ minds are brimming with creative spoils, but my imagination only seems to connect with certain situations, objects or feelings, and then, only when the moon is full. I think it’s the werewolf in me.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the perplexities of why sometimes you’re showered with inspiration, and other times, it’s like tramping your way around an imaginative dessert. To be honest, from my own perspective, I can’t give a reason. I try to be open to the many experiences that life throws at me – picking up on fragments of conversation, interesting looking people, and peculiar situations – but my creative soul is a stubborn, elusive type, and sometimes, no amount of visual or auditory foreplay will get it in the mood.
Speeding down the open road of inspiration
But those joyful times, when your synapses are clear, your neurons are firing on all cylinders, and your brain is oiled and ready to go, it’s like driving to work when the kids are on half term – the roads are empty and the journey is done in half the time. In fact, you can’t get your ideas down quickly enough. If you really were driving, the police would pull you up for driving too fast, and you’d have to go on a speed awareness course.
On these bountiful occasions, your creativity’s on fire. Metaphorically, at least. I wouldn’t want you to get burned. Every question you ask, every thought you process, adds another answer to the many what ifs of your storyline. When you’re walking the dog, you think of the resolution; in the middle of the night, you build the perfect first sentence; on the train, you bring together the climax, a conflict, a key character’s motivation. You’re so excited, that if you’re in a public place, you might have to restrain yourself from telling a complete stranger what you’re thinking. I mean, they don’t know you. How is the customer in the local cafe expected to understand that the buried knife you’re babbling about is nothing more than the twist in your next story? Sometimes, it’s best to keep things to yourself.
Note it down. Yeah, blah, blah, blah
The hardest part, I think, is getting the ideas onto paper before they evaporate. I find that if I let a thought drift for ten minutes, the distractions of the world flood my mind, and the tide of ordinary life sweeps it away like flotsam on the waves. I mean we’ve all done it. (Nah, don’t kid me, I know you’ve done it too.) You’re convinced you’ll remember it – that amazing solution to how Jemima managed to break into the office building without being picked up on CCTV. It’s so clear, you don’t even consider that it will get lost, lodged forever between the lists of mindless chores you have to do that week.
But the time I’m most likely to resist noting down a brain-wave, is when creativity visits in the middle of the night. Rolling over in bed, I block out the sound of my conscience nagging (in a tone of self-righteous certainty) that if I don’t write my idea down this very minute, it will disperse like the mist in the morning sun. The trouble is, it’s three in the morning, my eyes are stuck together, it’s freezing, and Mr W is snoring away beside me. I really don’t want to get up and sit on the toilet seat to scribble away, and I know I can’t turn on the light again. Not after last time. So instead, I snuggle further into the covers, assured that my thought process is so obvious, so relevant, there is no way I can forget it.
So, I thought you weren’t forgetful…
The next day I wake – perky, vibrant, and maybe a little confident. Confident, that is, until I come to scribble down my eureka moment from the night before. Errr… not so clear now, is it, cleverclogs? My brain primps up its bosoms saying, ‘You had your chance – now you’ve blown it’. Of course, it’s not gone so far as to cast the idea away. No. It’s simply making me suffer. My literary overture is still present, but now, it’s locked in the little box marked ‘ideas that weren’t written down in the middle of the night’. I might get another chance to get my hands on it, when the situation is right. Maybe Venus has to be in Capricorn, or the planets of the Solar System have to be in perfect alignment with the Sun. Whatever. I’m going to have to accept, maybe a little tearfully, that for now, and possibly forever, the idea is gone.
Inspiration in its many forms
Everyone’s creativity is influenced by different things. I find that my imagination is often sparked into action by simple things, such as memories, or by something seen on a walk – maybe a person, or frost-covered grass. It might be an event (whether it be on the news, or linked with someone I know, or in my own life) that preys on my mind. Occasionally, an interesting bit of dialogue could start up a story. But, for some reason, my best ideas seem to come directly from chatting to someone, or reading an article, about writing. It’s almost as if the notion of writing itself is what sets my brain’s motor running. It’s like the times when you smell a barbeque, or bacon, or chips. Even when you’re not hungry, they whet your appetite.
When your writing turns to soup
Unfortunately, there are times when even the most prolific writer despairs. Yes, you know what I’m talking about. Those desolate, grey days , when your creative landscape is arid, and the Word document taunts with its blankness. You can’t understand it – two weeks ago, you were a conveyor belt of inspiration. Not all your ideas were workable, but they were ideas nonetheless. Fortunately, you think to yourself, you noted most of them down – apart from that really good one that prodded you awake at three in the morning. But, the less said about that, the better.
Your emergency plan of action is to use that… um… unusual storyline you wrote down that time, about the girl that finds herself locked in a snow-dome. You’re pleased with yourself – nothing can stop you – and eagerly, you start on the opening. But for some reason, the concept, the words, the journey of the characters, don’t gel. You know you’re not getting your point across – or at least, not as well as you’d like to. However you describe it, you think no-one will understand what you’re trying to portray. It’s like you’re a native of Babel. You speak, but no-one understands.
On a positive note, you know from past experience that your language issues will pass. One day. Hopefully soon.
Keep on with the bear hunt – squelch squerch, squelch squerch
In the most difficult times, the important thing is simply to write. Even if it’s gibberish. If you’ve already got a storyline – keep at it. You can always edit it afterwards. No-one will ever know what you went through to make it seem so effortless – the cold tins of soup you ate; the three weeks that passed without a wash. Or the five o’ clock early rises in winter, dressed in fifteen layers of clothing. Obviously, on the days where you simply can’t get into the zone, it’s useful to distract yourself with other things. That way, you’re not obsessing about your writer’s block (you don’t want to build that block into a wall). Cleaning, or ironing, or scrubbing the oven might help. And, don’t roll your eyes at me. I, too, despise these activities with a vengeance. But it is this alone, that inevitably leads me back to the PC. Often with unbelievably limber fingers and mind.
If the ideas still aren’t knocking at your door, you might try speedwriting. Especially to music. Some people swear by it, claiming the stream-of-consciousness style brings them a whole barrage of inspiration. As an idea-processor, it doesn’t work for me, but it does send me into a therapeutic space, which is beneficial. Also, as I see it, I’m still writing, rather than just staring at a blank screen. And if you put on some really fast classical music, you might amaze yourself with the speed at which you can type.
(With a final note on that topic, I’d recommend staying away from dirges – especially if you’re in a real creative slump.)
Clear out your brain, then take it for a run
If you can’t get any inspiration from the outside world, try rummaging around inside yourself, and see what you come up with. This is not as alarming as it sounds. For instance, everyone has a past, and though you might think it’s not worth talking about, (or perhaps it’s one you don’t want to highlight to the public at large) it’s amazing what can be formed from it. Noting down memories can lead to some great storylines, and I’ve created a few short fiction based on the most insignificant recollections (though being trapped inside a snow-dome wasn’t one of them).
If that doesn’t work, try to write outside your comfort zone. For instance, if you only write fiction, try a poem, or writing to form. A haiku or a sonnet. It’s tough, but it’s a puzzle that makes your brain work hard. Give your grey matter some exercise; make it supple.
And then, there’s the notion of blogging. As you know, I’m pretty new to this (and the prospect of putting my thoughts on the internet terrifies me) but every type of writing is still writing. You’re giving an opinion, writing from your personal voice, and it’s something that reflects another aspect of you. It might not involve a character or a plot, but you are practising your art, forming ideas, and offering something to readers who might appreciate what you have to say.
It’s a hard slog, but somebody’s got to do it
Whatever you do – make space to sit and create a story; a poem; whatever. As a writer, it’s the most important rule. If you want to develop your ideas and your skill, you’ve got to keep at it. Don’t be put off by the slow times.
No-one said it would be easy, and no-one can make you do it, but you.