ETA: Quick shout out! An interview with me is up over at Creative Juicer about being creative and how to keep that creativity flowing. Come on over and say hi! (now, back to our originally scheduled blog post)
This past weekend I sat down to write my weekly blog posts and found myself staring at my topic list and not feeling it. I have some great topics there, too: working setting into a scene naturally, dealing with "when" statements, setting tone, tightening up your prose. But nothing was clicking with me and I couldn't find the right way to start any of those posts.
To kill time, I hit Twitter, tweeted about my dilemma, and had a lovely conversation with @authorjennelle about the struggle for ideas. Voila, I had a blog post. (Thanks Jennelle!)
Whether you're a new or experienced writer, you're going to struggle at some point over something you're writing. Writing is a creative process and every book is different. Every scene can be different. I've written over a thousand blog posts, half a million words, had ideas on paper, and I still didn't know what to write about today. Pros struggle same as newbies. The reasons might be different, but there are aspects of writing that are the same no matter who you are.
When I get stuck on an idea, it's usually due to one of two things: my idea feels like it's been done to death, or I just flat out don't what to do.
Done to Death Ideas
I've written about setting before. And when statements. And tone. I've read other great blog posts about all of those topics. It's easy to see why they didn't grab me. Why rehash what's been done already?
(More tips on adding a new twist to an idea)
I've had novels where I've felt the same way. Ideas for books or just ideas for a scene or plot point that felt familiar. On paper they look great, but they just don't get me excited or motivate me. Even worse, I want to use those ideas, can't think of anything else that works better, but I feel like I'd be writing the "same old same old" and the scene will read like a hundred other scenes. A bad scene I can handle, but predictable and familiar? -shudder-
There really are no new ideas out there. Every book you pick up will have another book, TV show, or movie that did that idea. It's impossible to be unique in fiction these days. While that might sound like a huge downer, it's actually liberating. It gives us the freedom to write the ideas we like and feel excited about, and not worry so much if they've been done before because they probably have. What makes it fresh and original is how we treat it. How we bring that idea to the world.
When you're looking at a not-so-original idea, ask yourself:
What's different about my take on it? If there's nothing different in how you're doing it, then yeah, maybe you have a done-to-death idea and should keep brainstorming. But if there are differences, and those differences take that idea to a new place, then it is a fresh idea.
What do I bring to the idea that hasn't been done before? Making a vampire the ultimate "bad boy" love interest was new when it was first done. Then others tried different paranormal creatures as hunky heroes and heroines. At first it was, "oh cool, werewolves," but now the idea of that supernatural hero is old news. Using a selkie or tengu probably isn't different enough (and one reason why it hits us as not being original enough) to stand out. But what hasn't been done with supernatural heroes (or whatever genre or subgenre you're writing in)? What about that idea hasn't been explored? Maybe look at:
- Is there anything about this idea that always bothered you?
- Is there anything that seemed silly or too far-fetched you could rift off of?
- Is there an accept you always wanted more information or history on?
- Is there an area that gets you especially excited?
Should I do it anyway? As writers, we see a lot of stories. Plots and ideas that my non-writer friends have been surprised over were predictable to me. Just because we think it's old hat doesn't mean it actually is. If that not-so-fresh idea is the perfect idea for you, why not go for it? Even though I know how every sports underdog movie is going to end I watch them anyway because I love that story. If you offer a compelling story with great characters to a reader, they won't care all that much if they've seen it before.
No Clue What to Do Ideas
These are so much harder, and can hit in all kinds of ways. No story idea, no blog ideas, no clue what to name characters or what setting to do. (I won't even get started on the in-progress stuck on what to do aspect) Frustration levels can go through the roof. I spent two hours the other day trying to think up five names for a new book I'm starting. Still not done with them.
(Guest author Myra McEntire did a great post on brainstorming)
What makes no-clue ideas so hard, is that no one can tell you where to begin. I know what works for me, but if you're the type of writer who always starts with characters, a plot jumping off point will get you nowhere. If you build up from a premise, tossing in cool characters might muddle your brain.
- Research: World building and setting can offer lots of inspiration
- Image Search: Look for photos of characters and places that spark ideas
- Names: Search through baby name sites or find names that inspire characters
- Go Online: Ask questions on social media sites. You never know who might say something that triggers an idea
- Talk it Out: Ask other writer friends, or talk it over with friends and family
What do you do when you get stuck for ideas?