Writing under Duress

There are times when it’s difficult to write what will come next, and you start searching for inspiration and creativity in strange and unusual places. Sometimes I’ll lay down in a dark room until I almost fall asleep, ’cause at dusk is when the good ideas come to taunt you. I’ve come across some tips that may help you avoid the dreaded White Noise Monster (i.e., Writer’s Block):

(1) Write a logline (a long one-sentence paragraph) or an elevator pitch (pretend you’re in an elevator with a publishing agent and she’s getting off on the fourth floor) – and describe a story that YOU would want to READ. Then start writing it.

2) Think about something that really makes you mad; it can be men, women, war, famine, politics, economics, social issues, whatever. And write about it. It can be first or third person, as long as the main character is emotionally engaged in fixing the problem, no matter what it takes. If you could do it, how would you go about it? Make him rich, or powerful, or not.

3) Start in the middle of the action and describe it. Is it a car crash, a murder, a fist fight, a domestic dispute? What does it sound like, smell like, look like, taste like? What are the people doing? What’s happening around you? What is the first thing someone says? Can he/she be heard over the screaming sirens, the ambulance, the people? Are you standing over a dead body with a gun in your hand, and you don’t know why?

4) Is there someone or something you always wanted to be or know? Go online and read about it. Talk to people who’ve been there/done that. Remember-when you’re a writer, you can be anybody you want to be, do anything you’ve ever dreamed of. Do you want to be a hero? A serial killer? A cop? A lawyer? An ordinary guy that something miraculous happens to?  Go on a cruise to a tropical island (jewelry thieves, a body tossed overboard, a mysterious man or woman)? Anything is possible. Write about it.

5) Pull out those notes about an idea you had years ago and put a different slant on it. You liked it well enough to keep it, so work on it with fresh eyes. In a writer’s group we were asked to write an opening paragraph, and I dredged up something I hadn’t seen in years, but I took it a down a different road.I changed the time period to late 19th century, the main character to a woman, the place from the US to England, and I ended up with 120,000 words of the best thing I’ve ever written.

6) Words are powerful. Verbal abuse is just as painful as physical abuse, and lasts just as long or longer. Words of love, once given and then taken back, or lost to time, can form the background of a story that lasts a lifetime. Did you hear something that someone said that’s stayed in your mind? Have you sat at a bar or been at a party and some character or what he/she was saying struck a chord in your writer’s sack of future tricks? Start writing it down. Dialogue can help your characters take shape and come alive. And like they say in architecture, form follows function.

7) A memoir can be poignant, sad, funny, tragic, powerful, life-changing, and all of the above. Everyone has at least one good story in them, either something that happened in their childhood, or something that happened growing up. What’s yours? Your parents? Your grandparents? People haven’t changed that much. Trust me. Stories you remember can become fascinating YA (young adult) stories that will interest kids today.

8) In the same way, objects have untold stories in them as well. Go through an attic, browse an antique store, read old letters from 20, 30, 40 years ago, or even the obituary columns or newspaper articles from “back in the day” – maybe things weren’t as boring as you think.

9) Or look at today’s news about the leaps scientists are making in artificial intelligence (think “I, Robot”), technology (smart phones and beyond), medicine (understanding autism), and automobiles (with auto pilots?), law enforcement (gun rights and police violence). Think about how these things will change your life, our children’s lives, their children’s lives. Pretend you’re there already, and start writing. Go online – there are tons of articles on all of these issues right now.

10) Listen. Grab a cup of coffee and lean back in a squishy chair and listen to everyone all around you talking about people, places, problems, situations, and circumstances. These are things that give birth to plots, ideas, character outlines, story arcs, dialogue, and stories, or (eventually) novels.

DO NOT turn on the television, text a friend, or sit and stare out the window with a blank expression on your face (unless you are writing furiously in your mind!)

DO go for a walk (especially if you’ve been sitting for a very long time in front of a blank computer screen), grab a glass of water or celery sticks to munch on while you write, make a quick trip to the library for what you can’t find online, and take a bath. Please.