Writers wake up in the morning with ideas bouncing around their heads. They wish they had bath crayons so they could write down the ideas that come while they’re in the shower, and they carry a mini-recorder so they don’t wreck the car writing down ideas while driving. There’s always a new character or a neat plot twist or a shiny magical object making itself known to the writer’s imagination. So why, oh why, do all those great ideas flit away as soon as you sit down at your desk?
It’s one of those things that we suffer with, the sudden blankness of mind. It can happen on page one, or somewhere in the middle. It can even happen when you’re chugging downhill toward The End…your character turns a corner and blam! You have no idea where she is or what has to happen next. It’s not so much writer’s block (we’ve talked about that before, and I think most of us agree there’s really no such thing) as it is pressure. Seeing that empty page can feel like a huge weight. How can I possibly ever write 100,000 words? It’s going to take forever! Or if you’re at the end, it’s that desperate desire to reach the finish line, all the while imagining the line slowly moving away from you. I can’t run fast enough. Why does it keep slipping away? It’s all pressure, and it’s all in your head. So the trick is to get out of your own head for a while. I have a few suggestions.
Meditate. Think about it – when you meditate, you’re trying to not think about anything. For a while, you’ll manage, but if you’re anything like me, once you reach a relaxed state, ideas flutter softly through your mind. I do a lot of my best problem-solving in that space between sleep and waking, which is the place you’re trying to reach in meditation. If you’re not familiar with meditation, you can try a guided meditation tape (check with your local library if you’d prefer not to buy one.)
Walk. Okay, you’re worried that meditating will just put you to sleep. If it does, you probably needed the rest, but I understand. You want to stay awake a while longer. In that case, go for a walk. Around your block, in the woods behind your house, or wander through your own yard. It doesn’t matter where you go, as long as you get outside and breathe for a little while. BIC may be our mantra, but getting out of the chair is good, too. Not to mention all that good Vitamin D you’ll soak up from the sunshine.
Drive. This isn’t one of my personal choices, but many people love to drive. If you’re one of them, those people who thrill to the open road, then take a drive. Don’t go far, though, since you might accidentally remember errands you wanted to run and end up wasting good writing time.
Dance. Or exercise in the way that you prefer. I turn up the music and just let myself move, in my living room where no one is watching. My head switches off, and I become an extension of the music, and soon, just like in meditation, the ideas wander back to where I was when they left me. If you worry that you’re a terrible dancer, or that you can’t keep a beat, do some crunches or lift some weights. Work up a light sweat. And remember, no one is looking.
Read. Open someone else’s book and immerse yourself for twenty minutes. One of the smartest things would-be writers do for themselves is read other peoples’ work, so they know what’s been done and how the other writers did it successfully. If you fear you’ll adopt that writer’s voice, try reading something completely out of your genre, or something in nonfiction. Let the words take you away so that your own will come back again.
Listen to music. This time you don’t have to dance. Just put on the headphones and close your eyes for a song or two. Listen to the composition of notes, the way they’re individual and blended at the same time. How amazing is that? Now realize that’s exactly what you’re doing with words. And do it.
Call a writer friend. Or a beta reader, or a loved one who’s good at helping you through these spots. I tend to get my husband involved. “I don’t know where they need to go now,” I’ll wail. “They’re stuck in a barrel about to fall over a cliff, and how do I save them?” He begins offering options for the character’s predicament. Some of them may already have occurred to me. Some may be impossible, and some may be perfect. Often I don’t even end up using anything he said, but having a sounding board helps me get outside my own head long enough to make room for new thoughts to emerge.
Bake. Baking is easy, because someone else has already written down the instructions, and all you have to do is follow them to the letter. It’s instant gratification (well, not instant, but quicker than writing a whole book.) Not to mention you end up with warm chocolate chip cookies at the end, and a house that smells good for hours.
So there are a few of my favorite idea-generating moves. I’d love to hear some of the things you do to rattle that idea cage open.