“Hello, blinking cursor. We meet again.”
We’ve all said this at one point or another— or, if you don’t speak to your laptop as I do, at least thought it. The blank page has mocked us and we have all struggled to get words onto the page at various points of our writing careers. Most of the time this unfortunate epidemic is caused by a lack of inspiration for creative ideas or even a lack of motivation to actually sit down and write. This happens when we’re missing our muse.
Some writers argue that a muse does not exist: the abstract idea of the muse was designed as a vehicle to which attribution could be credited for the creative process and to which blame can be placed when a writer needs an excuse for their lack of writing. A little pessimistic maybe, but that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to believe what they wish. If they’re able to work just fine without having a “muse” or attributing their creative process to something with that name, kudos to them.
I, however, am one of the writers who thinks there is such a thing as a muse— I’m talking about the figurative force thought to provide inspiration to poets, writers and artists, not necessarily the mythical Ancient Greek goddesses. I believe so because I can attest to situations, and many others have had similar ones I’m sure, where a story just popped into my mind and has flown from my fingertips without me having the slightest clue of where it came from, why it came and where the story is going. The story simply wrote itself. It is as if some unknown force used me as a vessel to write the story. And once the story is complete, poof. The force is gone and I stare at a strange story that apparently came from my brain.
You think I’m crazy? Well okay, maybe I am. But the point is, I consider that unknown force to be my muse. Even when I am in control of the story I’m writing, I sometimes need to call on this force for me to write.
In this post, I will go over some of the things I do/use to trigger my muse and get me in the creative writing groove. Hopefully some of these will resonate with you too or they can help you come up with your own inspiration/muse-inducing techniques.
Find your Writing Music
Some people like loud music to drown out the world or any straying thoughts: heavy metal, punk rock, or the screeching vocals of a screamo band because their bleeding ears actually enhance the quality of their words…. :P But hey, whatever works for you. I prefer soft, psychedelic, indie music. Calming. The kind of music that blends into the background and seeps into the subconscious as you write. Everyone has different tastes and you should account for that when reading this, but I think it can be reasonably argued that music (of any genre) can help writers get their keyboards a’clickin.’
There is also a distinct difference between your “jam” and writing music. I would advise against playing music that makes you want to party instead of quietly sitting to write. Although I am definitely not averse to a good desk-chair dance, the music shouldn’t distract you from your intended mission: writing. And there is also nothing wrong with having absolute silence to write. Whatever works for you!
Here are some bands that get my creative juices flowing:
Alpine, Tame Impala, Ulrich Schnauss, Alessi’s Ark, Explosions in the Sky, and Warpaint. If you also like soft, psychedelic, indie music feel free to check them out! (I linked my favorite song from each one in their name.)
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl?
Figuring this out can lead to a lot less stress. I used to make myself wake up early every day so I could sit myself in front of my laptop and write. Problem? I am NOT by any means whatsoever a morning person. Before I have my tea, and even after I’ve had two cups, I am a grumpy dragon and I will burn you. Therefore, this exercise soon proved fruitless. I’m your typical night owl. I could be completely blocked all day but when the clock strikes midnight, boom! All my ideas come in and I’m typing away until dawn.
Don’t try to fight against your nature. Find out when you are at your most creative and create a writing schedule around that.
Of course, most of us have work or other obligations that prevent us from writing exactly when we want/need to. Try to adhere to your writing time as much as you can while working around your other obligations.
If you are a morning person (for whatever ungodly reason :P), maybe you can wake up a little earlier than usual and squeeze in an extra hour or half hour before you get ready for work. If you are a night owl (woot!), maybe instead of participating in other post-work activities, start writing as soon as you can. If you really need the mystical hours of post-midnight to write, then perhaps some scheduled naps during the afternoon can make sure you get enough sleep while also being able to do your nightly writing.
Find out whatever works for you and play up your strengths!
Change your Setting
Most of us have our little havens where we do most of our writing. But is your work space the best fit for you? Where/how you write can be as crucial as the writing itself. Setting can affect your eagerness, creativity and ability to write. The wrong setting can negatively influence your work and productivity.
I prefer working at a desk, and try to avoid a window that faces a street or area with a lot of activity. I can get easily distracted while watching kids play or a cat trying to catch a lizard or when a lightning bolt strikes down a bird— I swear this has actually happened while I was writing. But then again, these things sometimes spark ideas— especially the lightning thing. I’ve even heard people say a certain smell triggers their creativity. They go sit in their garden and the smell of lavender makes them go into a writing frenzy.
Experiment with setting and see what works for you. And when you find a space, stick to it. If you make a habit of only writing when you are in this space, you can condition your brain to be ready to write whenever you sit in that spot.
Important note: wherever you choose to write, for goodness sake get a comfortable chair! Unless it’s on a bed or somewhere without an actual chair in which case make sure your seat is comfortable and has back support! As writers, we already subject ourselves to hours of inevitably hunching over a keyboard or, for those brave souls who hand-write everything, paper with pen clenched in hand. Don’t make your backs and shoulders hate you even more. Also remember to stretch and exercise every now and then. Finishing your story is important, but keeping your body healthy is important too.
Setting that helps me focus on writing:
A desk facing a window which looks out onto nature (garden, field, flowers, open sky, etc.) but has little activity. A swivel chair is also fun for those mini wheel-around-the-room breaks in between chapters— this is totally a thing.
Find your “Lucky Hat”
No, not a figurative lucky hat. I mean literally. Sometimes when I’m stuck on a scene or have writer’s block, I put on my lucky hat and I suddenly feel less blocked— yes, it’s the same hat displayed in my twitter avi and the picture in my blog’s bio. Thanks again to all who complimented me on it ^.^. Maybe it’s my inner desire to project the serious-fedora-wearing writer stereotype, maybe the pressure of the hat’s brim on my skull has a physical effect on my creative brain cells, or maybe I’m just coocoo. Either way, it’s worked.
An even more random phenomenon that gets me writing: cutting my nails. This may sound crazy— and okay, it sort of is— but whenever I cut my nails, I get instant creative writing flow. Every time. I think it’s because having long nails makes typing a little more difficult. When there isn’t that factor inhibiting my ability to type, my fingers feel free and the keys call to them lovingly. I’ve heard other people attest to something similar. A friend says that she notices an increase in productive writing when she has nail polish on her nails.
Find your lucky hat and use it! Even the most random of things can inspire you to write.
My lucky hats:
My actual lucky hat, cuticle care, my laptop (can’t seem to write on any other device), and wine (yes, wine. *mischievous grin.*)
Great ideas can come from the weirdest places
Over the summer, a rat jumped out at me from the communal garbage bin in my neighborhood and it scared the begeeses out of me. I did a pretty good rendition of Psycho‘s Marion Crane. Except the rat wasn’t stabbing me a bunch of times… but it might as well have. Anyway, it freaked me out. But it also gave me an idea for a scene in my novel so… Yay? Random events like these can be great catalysts for creative ideas. Weird? Yes. But at least they get us writing.
Dreams are the epitome of weird. Consequently, they are great writing material. The idea for my current novel-in-progress came from a dream I had as a child. I write stories based on my dreams all the time. Coming soon: the adventures of Paola and her giant talking cat as they fly through space and fight off gnomes… Just kidding ;)— but I wouldn’t be opposed to such a story or fun dream!
I’m one of the lucky people who remember (most) of their dreams, even with significant detail. Others say they forget their dream the minute they wake up. My advice is to have a dream journal next to your bed. When you wake up, the first thing you should do is write it down. Immediately. If you wait too long, you will start thinking of something else or someone/something may distract you and your dream could slip right out of your fingers. You don’t have to remember every step of the action or overall plot of the dream. Chances are, they won’t make much sense to use as actual plot lines anyway. But they can sure help shape story plot lines. Even the simplest details from dreams can spark ideas for stories.
Go out and observe the world
Interact with the world you are trying to emulate with your words. People watch. It’s quite entertaining and strangers can make for great characters. You can borrow descriptions, dialogue, personalities, motivations, interactions, you name it! They can even be the basis of a great story.
One time at the mall food court, I saw a little girl in a tutu, jeans and light-up sneakers with furry bumble bee ears on her head sitting with who I presumed to be her grandfather dressed in a fishing outfit complete with fishing hat. They were eating ice cream and reading from a giant dictionary. I remember thinking there was a cute granddaughter-grandfather story there. This happens all the time. Don’t forget to join the world that you are trying to capture in your stories.
Take nature walks or simply sit out in the garden and observe how animals interact, and the sound of the wind through the trees. Think of it as research. If you’re writing a story that takes place by a lake, try to go visit one so you can get the description right. If your character is a shopaholic, go to a mall and try to see the stores from your character’s perspective. Any bar scenes? Go to a bar, jot down some notes and… since you’re already there you might as well take a glass of something, right? You know, for research… but then get back to writing! :P
Multitask: Bounce between projects
Multiple works in progress can keep you creatively agile. You can switch gears when the muse runs out for one story.
I do this all the time. I live off of this really. The scattered brain I mentioned in an earlier post? It loves having multiple projects to work on. Writing for different mediums can also be effective. When I’m struggling with exposition and description, I switch to a script which doesn’t call for such craft. When I’m tired of working with a large story, I move to the smaller space a poem can give me to work with.
However, it can be disorienting bouncing between script writing, poetry and prose. And it can be overwhelming and exhausting working on so many stories at once. So make sure you don’t take on more than you can handle!
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the fastest way for me to be inspired to keep writing is by reading. You can’t write if you don’t read. Pick up that book you’ve been putting off and do some active reading. Be aware of things like setting, characterization, dialogue, plot etc. and I promise something will spark an idea for a new story or will give you a new perspective to introduce to your work in progress.
This especially works if you’re experimenting with genre. I find that when I’m working on fantasy, I need to read fantasy stories to keep me in that zone. When I want to write a realistic fiction piece, I pick up a literary novel to orient myself.
You’re not wasting time by reading. Reading leads to writing which leads to your work in progress done. It can also inspire you to finish your novel so you can one day hold it in your hands as you now hold someone else’s work.
But of course, do not strive to imitate or directly copy something another author did. Let other authors’ works inspire you to develop your own ideas and unique craft.
Just Keep Writing
Write EVERY DAY. Even if it’s just a sentence or revising a paragraph. Even if you think it’s all gibberish and gobbledegook. Even if you’re feeling particularly doubtful about your writing ability. Just write. (If you are feeling like your writing sucks, and are on the brink of giving up, please don’t! Maybe this post will cheer you up.) If you don’t practice your craft you won’t improve. Writing begets writing.
I cannot count how many times I have sat down to fix a paragraph and ended up writing for a solid 5 hours when I had absolutely no intention to do so at the time— it’s actually happening right now! I meant to only correct a typo and now here I am at the end of the post. So let go of all of your inhibitions and just write.
I hope these ideas inspired you to write. Sometimes it’s tough to get started or we simply get sidetracked, and that’s okay. The important thing is that we stay persistent and do whatever is possible to get us writing again.
Keep writing! You got this!
– Paola ©2014
What about you? What’s your muse? Which bands trigger your creativity? What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you that sparked an idea for your short story or novel?