Sometimes the ideas seem locked in an old, musty chest in the attic of your mind, a chest you can’t open no matter how you try. It’s infuriating. You might have a deadline looming for some short-story project, or you might be wanting to enter a prestigious writing contest, or you just might be searching for an elusive subplot that you can’t quite put your fingers on. It doesn’t matter. That chest is locked up tight. Here are a couple of ways you can help yourself unlock that chest, to let the ideas loose and get your writing moving again.
There was a game we used to play, back in my younger, less busy days. We called Dictionary, and all that was required was a dictionary and enough paper and pens for every player. Whoever was “it” took the dictionary, chose a word that he was fairly certain no one else would know (the game ran on the honor system, so you were expected to admit if you actually knew the word), and wrote down the real definition on his own paper. He then told everyone else the word, and the players had to make up their own definitions. Each definition was handed in to “it”, who read each one aloud. The players chose the definition they believed was correct. The real one was revealed – anyone who chose the right one got a point, and anyone whose fake definition was chosen also earned a point. It was great fun, and I learned quite a lot of new words in the process. I also took to searching the dictionary in my spare time, hoping to find funny words I could use in the next game. One of those words was “quotidian”, which caught the eye of my writer brain. Instead of using it in the game, I found myself creating a short story based on the word instead.
It’s easy to do. Get your hands on a big dictionary, the thicker the better. You might have to zip down to the library for one, since most people don’t have the humongous dictionaries on their own bookshelves, but the big dictionaries have the best selection of words to choose from. You can stand it on its spine and let the pages fall open, or you can choose a letter and start scanning the pages. Either way, it won’t take long for you to come across a word that you’ve never heard, a word that chimes in your imagination. When you find that word, write it down on a sheet of paper and start doodling notes around it. Before long, you’ll find yourself writing phrases, then sentences, and suddenly a story is forming around that one word.
What? You say you can’t find a dictionary anywhere in the house, and you’re currently snowed in and can’t get to the library? That’s okay, I’ve got another trick. It’s the same idea as Dictionary, except that instead of letting single words inspire you, you go for images instead. I went to a writing seminar long ago, during which each of us was given an 8×10 black and white photograph of an ordinary person. Mine was an old man in faded overalls, standing in front of a wornout tractor. We were given twenty minutes to describe our subjects – their names, their background, where they lived and what they liked to eat, all that. It was a wonderful exercise. You can do the same thing, with pictures in a magazine or a picture book. Heck, open up Google’s image search, and type your name, or your favorite color, or any word that pops into your head, then click ‘Search’. You’ll get dozens (maybe hundreds) of results. Start looking at them. Don’t worry about choosing a person’s picture – the exercise will work with any picture that rings a bell in your soul. Glance from picture to picture until there’s one that speaks to you. Stare at that one. Think about it. Let it tell you its story. Pretty soon you’ll notice that the locked-up chest has opened wide, and the light of creativity is pouring out on you.