I’ve given myself a personal goal – to write 1,000 words a day, five days a week. In the grand scheme of things I’m not sure if this is a lofty goal or a laughable one, but to me it feels manageable; just tough enough that I feel proud when I accomplish it, but not so hard that I might as well quit before I even begin. But what do I do on those days when I’m at a loss for inspiration? I’m not blocked, necessarily, I just…have no new ideas! Do I stare at the blank page and just wait for something to come to me? Honestly, I’ve given that a shot and sometimes, just sometimes, it works. But most of the time I’m left feeling frustrated and useless. There has to be a better way.
Below are five things that I do when I’m in need of a little inspiration. Hopefully they’ll be able to help you track down your uncooperative muse too!
- Read something different
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. If you’re all out of ideas, pick up something you would never read in a million years and give it a whirl. Never read any Faulkner? No time like the present! Hate romances? Try reading a chapter or two. Even if you don’t find anything you want to emulate, you may get an idea of something opposite that you want to try and write up.
- Listen to music
There’s something about just letting your mind wander as you listen to music. It’s not the same as staring at a blank screen and trying to squeeze out thoughts like toothpaste out of an empty tube. It’s more organic than that. Listening to music while courting the muse gives ideas space to grow and come into their own. Indeed, science has shown that listening to music helps improve cognition, enhance learning and memory, and even help encourage creativity or ‘divergent thinking’. I like putting on some jazz in the background when I’m struggling with thinking of new things to write, but whatever works for you, pump it up!
- Go back through abandoned pieces
If you’re like me you have a stack of half-finished short stories and novels that, for one reason or another, you never got back to. If you find yourself in a creative rut, now is the perfect time to delve into that mine of material and see what gems you can uncover. You might find that a piece you were working on is really close to being done, and only needs a few more bits and bobs that you were at a loss to provide before but now can see clearly. You may still not know what to do with a novel idea but love one of the characters you developed for it and want to use them in something else. The mind boggles at the possibilities.
- Draw from real life
If no new ideas are springing to mind, don’t be afraid to draw from things that are happening in real life. They don’t have to be huge, world-changing things either (though they can be if you want them to be). You can start writing a story about a person putting together a grocery list and who then finds a mysterious item in the back of their cabinet. You can start writing a story about someone taking their dog for a walk when they suddenly run into their old nemesis from high school. Most of the world’s best stories have mundane beginnings; don’t be afraid to start with the ordinary and write to the extraordinary!
- Give yourself permission to write something terrible
I find that what stops me from starting something new sometimes isn’t just a lack of new ideas, but a fear that whatever I put down won’t be ‘good’, whatever that arbitrary little word happens to mean at the moment. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is get out of your own way, and the way I do that when searching for new ideas is, right from the get go, by giving myself permission to write something terrible. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be something. When I do this, when I let go of self-expectation, I find that those new ideas flow a lot easier from my head down through my fingers and onto paper. Who cares if I don’t capture the idea perfectly the first time? I’ve given myself carte blanche to mess it up. The important thing is that I’m writing at all. That, after all, is the goal: to write and to write often. Editing and polishing can and should always happen later.