The blank screen. You feel it beckoning you. It’s asking to be filled. You want to write, your fingers hovering over the keys, but…meh. Your inspiration has sunken to below sea level.
Don’t worry, it’s within reach. Inspiration comes and goes through our lives. Don’t sweat it, it’ll be back, but here are some tips to help entice it:
Why do so many writers hang out in coffee shops? Is it to show off and be a cool, freelance hipster pretending not to have a caffeine dependency despite the 5 empty latte glasses beside them? Maybe. Or maybe it’s because writers love to watch people. People love to watch people. Simply sit in the window of a café and ogle the performances of mankind before your eyes. Ask where and why? Consider what their stories might be; where they just came from, where they might be going, what they might be doing, or indeed who they might be doing.
Sit quietly and notice what’s going on around you. Relax, and let your mind wander. Really boring thoughts might enter your mind, like ‘God, I really need to vacuum the lounge.’ How about adding, a ‘what if’? What if, you went to get the vacuum but it wasn’t there, it had escaped the broom cupboard and started its own Henry colony. I know what you’re thinking: that’s silly, ridiculous in fact, and would make a pathetic story. So what if the little voice in your head says it’s crap? Write it anyway. A lot of very famous writers wrote some terrible crap. Not every word that comes out of us can be brilliant, we’re only human after all.
Read or watch something
Books and films can be a huge inspiration, the ones you like of course, but especially the ones you don’t like. Ever been angered by the ending of a film and thought ‘pah, they shouldn’t have ended it like that, they should have done this.’ Bang – there’s your idea.
Being inspired by other people’s writing is not just copying, there’s a big difference. Never dismiss an idea because it has a similar story to something else you have watched or read. Apparently, there are only about seven basic plot lines in the entire world, but how you present them can seem like entirely different pieces.
Everything that everybody writes is ultimately inspired by something else. We are influenced by the things we watch, read and every day events. Our influences make us who we are, and your influences will ultimately be your inspiration, be it consciously or not.
Have breaks and go outside
‘But I need to stay wrapped in a blanket crouched over my laptop!’ I hear you cry. We all have that niggling writing monkey which hangs on a branch in a corner of your mind. ‘You need to write!’ it says. ‘Never mind going out and having fun with your mates. Your laptop is your only friend now.’ But we know we can’t always stay in with the monkey, we need fresh air and our eyes need time out from staring at a screen. When our parents told us to go and play outside instead of being ‘glued to that Sega Master System’, it was probably a good call.
Writing prompts and exercises
Hate the pressure of writing that very first line? Pinch one from someone else. Take any book, copy the first line and follow on with your own story from there. Starting is always the hardest part but once you’ve got going you’ll find you can go back and take that first line out. There’s also lots of websites offering writing prompts, some using photographs, others giving specific words or lines to start you off or include.
Joining a writing group can really help with motivation too, and being in a group can help you learn and grow together and share ideas.
Listen to music
Feeling like you’re stick in a bit of an afternoon slump? Sometimes some lively music can wake you up and inject a bit of energy when needed. You could even have a ‘writing piece’ – a song which your brain will come to recognise as ‘ooh this is writing time!’ Music can be helpful for setting a tone or creating an atmosphere which will seep through into your writing. Want to write a dark atmospheric piece? Maybe try some Deftones, or some Portishead. For writing a piece with some ballsy angry characters how about some Riot Girl punk like Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland or Sleater-Kinney? Find your own emotions in your choice of music and use it as your tool, however works best for you.
Memories may tie in with music, especially of the nostalgic kind. Maybe listen to your favourite song from when you were 13 and see what comes back. Writers often say ‘write about what you know’ as this can help your writing feel more authentic. If it’s based on truth, your readers will feel it. Be careful not to write about people without asking their permission or changing their names, but you may find that your friend might like being featured in your story about how she had to carry you home after drinking cheap cider and puking all over her mum’s slippers.
Live a little
Some writers like to lock themselves away, and when it comes to a full novel idea then maybe you can, but before that you’ve got to get out there and live. Without experiencing life, what will we have to write about?
Travel. Always a wealth of experience and opens doors to many opportunities, not just travel writing, but for settings, characters and dramatic anecdotes, like that time you got taken to ten suit shops by a tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok despite your requests only to go a temple.
Jobs can often be a form of inspiration, even the terrible ones. Many writers had jobs they hated before they became professional writers. An awful job may feel that way at the time, but looking back, the experience can often make the transition into an entertaining, hilarious, embarrassing story to be shared.
Lose yourself in your imagination
You don’t have to travel far to be inspired. You don’t have to have lots of money, or have lots of life experience, because stories are around you every day if you look closely enough. We are all blessed with an imagination, a tool that allows use to explore beyond our everyday lives.
Ideas are endless. Our imaginations stretch for infinity. Inspiration is everywhere, inside and out, and it’s there for you. Go get it.
There are some great books on writing out there. ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg is wonderful. Stephen King (even if you’re not horror fan) usually always has some wise words to say and his memoir/writing guide ‘On Writing’ is highly recommended.