Writing in the Dark Part 1: Snagging Inspiration when the Creative Well Runs Dry
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Hello, Writer Friends!
Welcome to Part 1 of a 2-part series featuring middle grade writer Susan Leigh Needham! Since it’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted, I’m making it up to you with a TC KEMPER BLOG DOUBLE-FEATURE!
*Cue the brass band!*
Part 1 is my own post, and Part 2 is Susan Leigh Needham’s. (Spoiler alert: she’s fabulous and has some great thoughts on finding writerly joy when the going gets tough, ya’ll!)
So let’s kick off this double-feature by talking about inspiration.
If you’re anything like me, you have those moments of OH-MY-GOSH-THE-CREATIVE-JUICES-ARE-FLOWING-AND-I-CAN-WRITE-UNTIL-MY-FINGERS-FALL-OFF, and then later, those moments where your creative well is bone-dry. Writers often talk about “chasing the muse,” and that’s the thing about a chase: sometimes you catch what you’re after, and sometimes you don’t. So how do you stay focused when your creative well has been empty for several days (or weeks, or months . . . or all of 2020)?
While I’m no writerly fairy godmother, I do have a couple of tricks up my sleeve that other writers might find helpful as well.
1. Start with a song
Outside of reading in your genre/age group, I’ve found that music can be a fabulous source of inspiration. Music can pound, or crash, or rise, or hum, but all of it is designed to achieve a mood. Listen to your favorite musical artists or explore a new genre you’re not as familiar with. Now, take the time to really listen and feel. What kind of emotion is coming through? What kind of character would feel this way? What circumstances would lead to this particular outpour of grief/excitement/fear/etc.? Why would one of your characters feel drawn to this particular song?
2. Start with a title
Whenever I’m daydreaming up a new WIP (even when I’m supposed to be finishing an existing WIP, shhhhh don’t tell!), I sometimes linger on a word or phrase I find interesting and then imagine what kind of story would belong to that title. It’s somewhat like the word-collecting featured in Natalie Lloyd’s middle grade masterpiece A SNICKER OF MAGIC. (Which, if you haven’t read yet, you really should!)
An example: my husband sometimes calls our dog his “peanut butter prince.” Now, what kind of story would feature that title? A middle grade or YA contemporary featuring a main character who’s the heir to a peanut butter fortune? A picture book set in a peanut-butter-and-jelly kingdom? Wherever it takes you, let your mind wander and see what characters, settings, or conflicts come your way.
3. Revisit What You’ve Already Written
Whether you’re starting a fresh story or continuing an old one, it’s always valuable to take a walk down memory lane or recap where you left off. This might seem simple enough, but by setting aside some time to really read and enjoy what you’ve been previously working on, you can reconnect with your written voice or reintroduce yourself to familiar characters that may inspire new ones. Sometimes just jogging your memory can be enough to coax your fingers into hitting the keyboard!
4. Let Yourself Wander (Figuratively and Literally!)
Some writers can ignite their creative flames through sheer force of will-- they sit down, set a timer, and write! But if your ideas have all gone on vacation, even this method can be a challenge. So instead, let yourself wander.
And by “wander,” I mean both mentally and physically. Turn off distractions and let your mind roam in the shower or on a slow, easy drive. Daydream about what it would be like if your characters were in a particular situation, and play their dialogue and actions out in your head. In the physical sense, I like to wander the woods near my home, watching birds hop from branch to branch as I crunch through the fallen leaves or squish through the soggy winter mud. I’ve found that a change of scenery + a lack of distractions + a little exercise = creative juices flowing!
And, of course, sometimes you just need a dang break, ya’ll! Rest is important, especially when you’re feeling frazzled. Let yourself recharge, then come back to that blank page with a renewed focus.
May your creative well stay full, friends!
Now, hop on over to Writing in the Dark Part 2 with the awesome Susan Leigh Needham!
Writerly high fives,