We all fear it. That moment when you sit down behind your laptop, open a fresh document, crack your knuckles and start staring at the blinking cursor for hours. We call it blank page paralysis. How do you overcome it and inspire yourself to write?
When I was a young girl, I never worried about things like an empty page or a white document staring at me. I just wrote when I felt like it or when I got hit by a jolt of inspiration. Back then I didn’t think about where it came from, the story was just there. But more and more often people started to question me about it, which forced me to think about it.
The question where a writer gets their inspiration from is a personal one. It’s different for all of us. Sometimes it just happens, other times not so much. Luckily I’ve been blessed with an over imaginary mind, so coming up with stories has never been a big issue for me. I just need a little grain, a little spark of an idea, and off I go. You see, sometimes you have to force your inspiration to come to you, instead of waiting for it. Here’s how you do that.
1. Open your ears
When I minored in creative writing, we tried one of the most amazing exercises I have ever done. One I unconsciously already did, and consciously do now. All it comes down to is good old-fashioned eavesdropping. It’s a perfect technique to inspire yourself to write.
Go sit in an area with lots of people like a mall, restaurant, bus station (I prefer to sit on a train). Take out a notepad or your phone and just listen to what happens around you. You will hear pieces of conversations, one-sided phone calls, and noises that can spark all kinds of stories. When you hear somebody say ‘she doesn’t know,’ for example, ask yourself what it is she doesn’t know. Is her boyfriend cheating, is her son the spawn of Satan, is she adopted? What is she so unaware of and what does this other person know about it? What is their relationship with her?
2. Open your eyes
The exercise extends itself. It’s not just about eavesdropping. It’s about noticing the odd thing out. When I did this exercise daily, I started to notice an old man taking the same bus as me every single day. He knew all the drivers by name and was always happy. Until one morning when it was raining. The man stood under his umbrella and his face looked sad. It was not his regular behavior. It’s not that he did anything out of the ordinary, but because I had observed him for a couple of days, I noticed something was off.
The change in the man, made me realize there might be a story there. Maybe he just hated the rain, or he stepped in something nasty on his way. But it could also be that he just lost his wife, suffered great financial loss, or was unable to choke the girl he had been stalking for weeks. Plenty of inspiration and plenty of reason to observe him even more. I studied his face, behaviors, and speech for a little while and then wrote a short story on him.
3. Find unique sources
One of my favorite things to do is to go through the newspaper and clip out crazy headlines and quotes. I keep dozens of them in a box, for when I don’t know what to write about. Not all of them are deep or meaningful, but they have something unique about them. Something that hides a story. A title like The Eurostar Ghost Train lends itself incredibly well for a short horror story (which I wrote).
Don’t limit yourself to newspaper clippings either. See if you can find old letters, postcards from strangers, and funny confessions on the internet. Stories are laying all around. They happen every day. My advice is to visit yard sales and flea markets. See if you can find the old correspondence. But you also have alternatives. Google Bizarre news for example, and you’ll find yourself a treasure trove of stories. Like this one on a missing guy that joined his own search party.
4. Watch some tv
Wait. What? Aren’t you supposed to read if you want to be a writer? Well yes, but we’ll get to that in a bit. For now, I’d like to point out that the big black screen in your room isn’t the devil. I’ve gotten great inspiration from serries, tv-shows and movies. Sometimes it’s just easier for me to dive into a world that is already created, with characters I’ve come to know intimately.
I wrote a whole lot of fanfiction when I was younger and in doing so learned the basics of good storytelling. It’s not something that happened consciously, but because I didn’t have to think about the background of the characters, the world, or even the theme, I was able to focus completely on the story I wanted to write. My Buffy and Xena flics had a big audience and I am grateful for that. They were my first readers after all.
Now, I can almost see some of you frown and look down on this idea. I like to ask those who do that a question. Are you aware that Fifty Shades of Grey started as a Twilight Fanfic? And that bestseller book After was all about.. hold on to your horses… One direction. Fanfiction isn’t new, or for non-creatives. My favorite example is Disney. Almost all their movies are fan fiction. They didn’t write Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Little Mermaid after all. Who would have thought?
It might be the most given advice against writer’s block. Just write. Sit down behind your computer and start typing. Don’t let your fingers leave the keyboard until you have written. Don’t know what to write, start by saying that. Just keep going.
Although it is a very valuable exercise, it doesn’t always work for me. It feels silly and it can be a hurdle to get over. I like to have a starting point. Luckily there is another exercise that can get you writing. Grab a book from one of your favorite authors. Read the first three pages and stop there. Now start writing the next few pages. If the book is new to you, write how you expect that first chapter to end. If you already know the book and the story, try to write it in your own words. No peeking.
6. Go out and do stuff
The thing with inspiration is that it often hits you when you least expect it. Most of you will probably relate that shower time is one big brainstorm, yet when you get out, most of it is gone. Poof. That’s okay. You don’t have to remember everything. Just listen to Stephen King’s explanation on why he never uses a notebook:
Now keep in mind. This is just something that works for him, that doesn’t mean it goes for you! Find your flow, your way. Find your own sources and inspire yourself to write. Jot down what energizes you and you’ll be working on your WIP (Work In Progress) before you know it.
Don’t beat yourself up. Embrace yourself, allow your mind to rest, and enjoy the time you have been given to find new inspiration. Trust me, that well will never dry up. Truly. You got this!