by Laurelann Easton
As a writer, and having known many writers, one of the biggest truths and hardships about writing is finding and keeping inspiration. The most common idea is “writer’s block,” or “artist’s block” for anyone who doesn’t write but still has an issue getting the creative juices flowing.
Something to recognize is that everything that crosses your path, every situation you find yourself in is a potential story, even if it’s just something that you relay back to your friends later after it happens.
However, if these stories really spark something inside of you, you’ve got to hang on to it! My biggest fear as a writer is that I will somehow lose my ideas. With phones being a prevalent part of almost everyone’s lives, they’re the quickest and easiest tool to have on hand no matter where you are to save whatever inspiration hits you.
Some of the best advice I ever heard was to keep a yellow folder (it doesn’t have to be yellow, but this is what this particular person used). It can be a physical folder that you keep on your desk or your bookbag, or it can be a single folder on your computer that you use for one thing only. That would be for storing ideas, even little snippets of ideas. It can be a piece of dialogue, a philosophical idea, a lyric—literally anything!
The important thing here is the folder, physical or otherwise, or even the list of notes growing in your phone. Save all of these ideas for the rainy, wall-filled days that refuse to let you get any writing done.
Recently I went through the airport to visit my family a couple states over, and I swear that airports are hotspots for inspiration! Someone walked by me with their phone up to their ear, and for some reason it looked to me like he was impossibly holding a gun in the airport. And now I have a story idea about how someone reacts to being unexpectedly held at gunpoint.
At places like airports where there are a lot of people, there are a million different opportunities for inspiration. Of course, you can’t always be in an airport unless you travel frequently, so cafes or restaurants are also stories waiting to be told.
An interesting exercise in writing that I did a few years ago for a class assignment is called “portrait of a stranger.” For this, what you do is go out in a public setting and follow someone around. The goal is to write about that person in the third-person perspective and to add as much detail as possible so that it seems like you know the person.
This sounds really creepy—it’s not supposed to be. Don’t make yourself seem like a stalker. I achieved this by sitting in a café downtown and watching how the barista interacted with customers. The writing itself doesn’t have to be anything long; it can be only a couple pages or so. If anything, this will give you something to focus on and freedom to write because you’re not forced to create anything new.
For creative nonfiction writers, this is a fantastic exercise. Strictly fiction writers should remember, though, that real life holds a lot for inspiration because it leaves a lot of room for embellishment (creativity). Maybe the barista isn’t really a human but is instead a dragon who roasts his own beans!
Keeping a folder of ideas like this are great if you’re looking for something new to start, short story or novel or whatever it is you’re interested in writing!
Sometimes starting a story is the easy part, especially when you’ve got your trove of ideas saved up. Say you do get this great idea about a dragon barista, and you get the conflict and plot started. Then the walls come up. Your mind blanks. Where do you go next? How do you keep going?
If I’m looking for inspiration to keep going, I turn to art and music. I have this ancient DeviantART account, and I’ll scroll through the main pages of it viewing different art from popular artists. For music, I have go-to playlists that inspire me and I know many writers who have certain types of music they listen to. Sometimes I go to Pandora for Halo-themed music for epic action scenes, or YouTube for hours of fantasy music for the more magical stories I write. If I need something steady that won’t distract me, I play Radiohead because of how seamless it runs in the background.
What music do you listen to when you write? Or do you have to have a quiet room? If you prefer quiet, maybe viewing art can be a good what you go to for inspiration.
One of the last tools to consider for keeping your walls at bay is plotting. Everybody knows Freytag’s Pyramid or something similar to it, and it’s a good generalized way to consider your plot if you’re not one for knowing every detail of your story before it comes.
If you’re like me and love plotting, then something more detailed might help. This could be breaking down each chapter into scenes before you write them. I ended up doing this after I finished a full rough draft of my novel, and it helped to give direction to it all. I wrote a general goal for how it propels the conflict or plot of the story, and then broke down the scenes to see if it actually contributes to the goal I set. (This can be helpful if you’re looking for motivation or a point in the right direction for editing!)
Having the outline of a plot can be helpful to refer to because sometimes writer’s block can be fueled by not remembering where your story is taking your characters.
Here’s to the defeat of writer’s block and the success of creative endeavors!
LAURELANN EASTON is a creative writing major and will be completing the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University in 2019 with a Teaching Assistantship. She loves reading the weird yet real stories of life that no one tends to shed light on. Alongside writing and editing, she runs an Etsy shop for wire-wrapped jewelry and metal-working. To de-stress from everything, she goes for hikes in the White Mountains, practices yoga in her living room, and cuddles her dog, Calypso.