Friday, 30 May 2008

Coffee break: Jump starting

Doesn't Friday roll around quickly? Especially when there's been a Bank Holiday. I'm still in my Thursday brain, and so I'm patting myself on the back for having remembered to get the coffee brewing. Pour yourself a cup of something warming, seeing as it's unseasonably miserable out there today (or at least it is Ooop North)

I was stuck, stuck, STUCK for ideas for this morning (blame it on the brain being a day behind). I looked back through all of the previous coffee breaks, hoping for something to steal, errrr, i mean inspiration to strike, and what a lot we've covered so far: dealing with feedback, writing and working, music, pseudonyms, writing as therapy, the promotional bandwagon, writing in secret, crystal tips, confidence boosting tips, 'How to...' books, structural engineering ~ there's can't be anything we haven't covered yet.

Inspiration was eluding me. And then I thought, 'hey, I could ask everyone else what they do when they are uninspired.' And so that's what I'm going to do.

I tend to write from a "what if and why?" perspective ~ for example, my current WIP could be described as "what if i hadn't pulled myself out of the social / psychological rut I was stuck in ten years ago? Where would I be, what would I be doing, and why?" I'm not sure I believe in Muses in the conventional sense, but if I did my Muse, in this respect, is a mythical version of myself, the Me that could have been, had circumstances been different. When I find myself stuck, pondering "what if....?" sets off a chain of thoughts that eventually lead to something I can get my teeth into.

So what I'm wondering is, what do you do when you're stuck for inspiration? What are the jump leads that spark the engine back to life when you haven't got two ideas to rub together? Or are you brimming with so many ideas that you can't get them down quickly enough?

27 comments:

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Good post, Kate - and good point; we're definitely going to run out of topics soon!

I'm rarely short of ideas, but when I am, I find that freewriting helps enormously. There's a great description of this method here http://www.fontlitagency.com/onaross/free_writing.htm if anyone's interested.

NoviceNovelist said...

Thanks kate - I need a very strong coffee this morning! I don't have any magic formula but I do beleive in the power of writing practice (or freewriting as Zinnia has mentioned) - setting the timer and just going for it when the creative tank is empty.

I was at my writing group meeting last night and we had to write for 10mins on an image someone had brought along. I was literally writing 'words escape me tonight' for at least the first two minutes and then the voice of my main character in my fledgling novel popped into my head and I asked her some questions about her story. That opened a healthy stream of conciousness and off I went - completely ignoreing the image prompt and getting some meat for the novel.

I think external stimualtion is a good starting point if you need a push - having a walk, visitng a gallery, rereading the opening of favourite novels - anything like that.

Graeme K Talboys said...

Cold drink, I think, this morning. Sun's shining, all the neighbours have gone out. Peace. Warmth. Bliss.

I have more ideas than I will be able to use in this lifetime (perhaps I should auction some off). I have folders full of them - most, it is true, are bilge, but like my notebooks, I keep scribbling them down and I keep sifting. If I get stuck on my w-i-p, I simply pick up another project and take it forward. I usually find if I start getting interested in that, the urge to get back to the w-i-p kicks in.

Lazy Perfectionista said...

If I can't think of something to write, I often try starting somewhere else or re-reading something that's not quite finished to see if that helps. I write in quite a patchwork way, so there are lots of scenes that are half-done that I can pick up, so there's usually something I can find that inspires me. Something else that helps is music - sometimes all I need to get into the right frame of mind with the words bubbling up is the song or piece of music I would imagine as the soundtrack if it were a film.

Calistro said...

I tend to write down any ideas I might have in a notebook as they occur to me. In theory that means I should never be short of ideas but that's not actually true. Sometimes, if I've got a themed comp to write for, for example, none of the ideas in my notebook fit. In that case I tend to panic for a few hours and then sit down with my notebook and brainstorm. I write down everything that occurs to me to do with that theme (you could do something similar if you were stuck somewhere in your novel). It doesn't matter how outlanding the idea is, I just keep writing them down. One thought sparks another and another and another and eventually I'll end up with an idea that sticks and inspires me.

Calistro said...

How 'outlandish' the idea is, not outlanding!

SpiralSkies said...

I pick a 'thing' randomly: a shoe, a hairbrush, a pickled onion - honestly anything! - and then have a set time in which to do a sort of mind-mapping doodah, just sticks and circles linking (or not) and branching out.

Pick one of the vague links you like and then freewrite on it.

It's actually harder than it should be to force yourself to freewrite when the ideas are all bunged up but it really does work once you get into it.

A change of scenery often helps too, especially if you can eavesdrop with determination!

I still find ideas to be rather like buses though.

Great post Kate

Leatherdykeuk said...

I use writing prompts. often these are ones that I've set myself for writer's boards. Jasfoup's blog is entirely prompt driven, as is Laverstone Tales. By the time I've written those I generally have a good idea of what i want to write on the WIP afterwards.

Clare Sudbery said...

Like Graeme, I'm constantly having ideas which I jot down, and have a file on my PC with over 200 ideas in it.

But that doesn't necessarily help if I'm stuck for a particular bit of a novel, or a themed piece of writing.

In which case... I try and have it circulating round my head for a few days in advance of when I have to write it, and that way ideas are likely to just pop into my head just as I'm falling to sleep at night, or while I'm driving, or watching telly, or, well, could be any time really.

I have to confess though, that normally I just sit down with a screen in front of me and think very hard about what might happen next, and normally I come up with something. It's not the ideas that are the problem for me, it's the motivation / impetus to execute them, and not get sidetracked into procrastination and/or fear. I often struggle very badly with that.

Lane said...

I do Morning Pages (Julia Cameron). Not everyday as you should but pretty much and find it helps not only to kick start the brain but also serves as a useful 'file' to look back through for ideas and starting points.

I also use the prompts from our writing group. Although we only put up one piece each, each week, the prompts often spawn other ideas which can be incorporated somewhere else.

Having said that, coming up with ideas is not my problem. Actually weaving them into the big wip? That's my problem!

Debs said...

I have various notebooks with odds and ends written in them in the form of vague ideas.

I would like to say that when I need inspiration I open one of these and find a clue as to what to write next but usually I only do that after tracking down some chocolate as that seems to get my brain into gear more than anything.

It's probably psychological but maybe it just helps me sit still for a moment and let my words have time to unjumble themselves and start flowing again.

The notebooks help sometimes too.

B.E. Sanderson said...

I'm not lacking for story ideas, but sometimes none of them spark me. This happened recently, as a matter of fact. I just finished the first draft of my most recent WIP and I couldn't figure out what I wanted to write next. So... I took my trusty notepad and pen, and sat on the couch. I tried writing a short synopsis for each potential idea. The more I wrote, the more I could see which idea had enough meat to actually be written. I ending up picking a story I'd started last year, and I got back to writing on it last night.

Fiona said...

Great question and I may I have a little whisky in my coffee? I have a cold in my doze you see.

Not great with prompts. Music works for me most the time or looking back on my chequered past.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Gosh, brimming with ideas would be something wouldn't it. I would love to be in that position! As it is, I read books, look around me, think about what's currently happening in my life and those around me. I have a terrible writers' block at the moment and have been searching for some much needed inspiration to get back to my book. It's coming, slowly but surely. Half term holidays don't help when you have to find alternative activities for the children (child in my case!).

We do cover some great talking points on here during our Friday coffee breaks, I get some of my inspiration from you lot. Thanks!

Crystal xx

Juliette M said...

I play music. I have made setlists over the past few years for certain characters and it really helps. Actually making them was much linked to procrastination (!) but now I have them, it's massively useful.

If the music doesnt work, which is rare, I go and write a couple of flash fictions. (150-250 words usually) Never on the subject or characters of the book, though (with one exception which was written for a challenge and two characters just begged to be in it.)

Helen Shearer said...

I'm like Clare...my problem is finding the motivation to get on with it sometimes. I'm a bit of a lazy swine as it turns out. I scrawl down ideas all the time. My bag is full of receipts, sticky notes and scraps of paper with tidbits of inspiration, and every few days I clean out the bag and transfer them to a shoebox. The shoebox is full of ideas - some of them great, some of them not quite so great. Every so often I go through the box for a look and I usually find something that just has to be written today. I have also found scraps with just one or two words written and I don't have a bloody clue what I was on about when I wrote it. Not sure why I keep them, but I do.

On those days when I just can't seem to write anything decent, I take a break, pop in a movie and wait for the motivation to return. It always does.

L-Plate Author said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L-Plate Author said...

Hello everyone, happy Friday.

I normally try and read. I'll read either a new book until I feel the need to start writing mine again or if I'm after ideas I'll flip through the problem pages of women's mags, that's always given me food for thought and a fair few plot lines too. The more I go on with a book though, the more I lose myself in it and if I can just sit down for a few words a day, I don't get blocked because I'm so anal with the planning stage. And I suppose because I have written two, I know I can get to the end so the doubt gets pushed away. x

wordtryst said...

I don't have a shortage of ideas - got lots of them jotted all over the place. Where I tend to get stuck is in the middle of a piece, and it's usually a sort of freeze, a crisis of faith more than anything else that brings me to a screeching halt. It's a feeling of: What the hell do you think you're doing? Writing a book? Gimme a break! When that happens I can't go forward.

So - I take myself out of it. Sometimes it takes a few hours, sometimes a few days, but it seems that my subconscious keeps working and then suddenly, while I'm in the middle of something totally unrelated like staring into space with my thoughts adrift or making a grocery list, I get a clear vision of what I should do next.

Seems like turning the pressure off and giving my subconscious time to percolate does it for me.

Captain Black said...

Okay, not exactly coffee time for me right now. More like Beer O'clock!

Quick summary: Ideas - Plentiful. Writing ability - suspect :o/

Brainstorming is a superb technique for generating ideas. There's only one difficulty: you need another person, or more than one. This has worked fantastically well so far with one of my WIPs - admittedly the one where I have a co-author ;oP

Taking a break is another technique I use. There's no point in trying to force ideas to come (don't force it: get a hammer), just take some time away and come back to it later.

I suppose there are also the obvious things too: Read a lot, watch telly, see films, observe life, etc.

I seem to respond quite well to title- or prompt-driven writing. In fact, many of my major works were originally triggered from such small things. I don't know if this is significant, but many of my titles have musical associations.

The only other thing I can think of is to keep paper and pen by your bedside. That way, when you have great ideas in the middle of the night, wake up from a dream, or whatever; you can write the material down before it mysteriously vanishes from your brain - something that seems to happen more and more to me these days.

Finally: Read through your work again, possibly after a suitable break. It's amazing what you might come up with, just by looking at things with fresh eyes.

What are we going to do when we run out of ideas for coffee-time topics?

KeVin K. said...

I always have lots of ideas about whatever project I am not working on at the moment...

CC Devine said...

I'm a bit late...sorry. I find that I write in fits and starts. I'm either full of inspiration and rushing to get the words on the page or totally devoid of any ideas at all. I have a notebook that I jot ideas/scenarios in and sometimes flicking back through this can help if I'm stuck. Other times going for a walk and people-watching can help; I might imagine what somebody's lifestory is or where they're going to and why. Similarly browsing through a magazine or the newspaper might spark an idea.

Clare Sudbery said...

"Brainstorming is a superb technique"

Good point. I use my boyfriend for this. We normally do it on Friday nights whilst drunk and stoned (oo-er, but no innuendo intended). Only problem being that sometimes he picks up a thread and goes off in a completely opposite direction and I don't know what he's on about or he diverges too far from what I want. But together we've come up with some great ideas, and still argue over who came up with the concept of Psychic Dancing which is a major theme in my 2nd book. I think it just helps to crystalise things if you bounce ideas off someone else. Also halps you to know what you *don't* want, when you find yourself disagreeing or clarifying.

And yes, othe forms of fiction or art - for instance, films, TV dramas, documentaires, music, etc - often spark ideas off in me.

Flowerpot said...

I don't usually have a problem with ideas but yes - fitting them in is teh challenge. I quite often find I get teh solution when I'm walking the dog or even lying in bed.

Annieye said...

What a great post. Inspiration - it eludes us all, doesn't it, just when you need it most.

I pick a book. Any book - it doesn't matter if it's fiction or non-fiction.

I open it up and look at the left-hand page. I then copy out the penultimate sentence. No cheating! That's my inspiration. It's never failed me yet.

I even wrote a short story (A squared plus B squared equals C squared) from my son's college textbook.

UN PEU LOUFOQUE said...

When missing my muse ,which normally has tendency to either shout loudly and hit me over head with ideas at 3 in the morning I tend to sulk ,kick items of furniture and vow I shall never write another word...until somthing happens and I think "ping" and off I go again.

DK Leather said...

what a lovely post. ~pops the stone cold coffee into the microwave to nuke it~ (life's chaotic as usual).

I rarely ever struggle to think of something to write, merely the time to write it! However...

Inspiration. To be honest I have a file on my pc, filled with snippets I've written over the years. Stories, write ups, poetry and journal snips; that usually works to inspire me to write more!