Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Writer’s Ramble: Finding Your Muse

I’m stuck.  I’m re-doing the ending for my novel, and it’s been slow going for the last two months.  This is my third major draft.  There have been a lot of changes, and now the ending is completely different.  I have no idea how to finish it.

I’m sure I’ll figure something out, but getting there is like pulling teeth.

So I figure it’s a good time to blog about overcoming writer’s block, and finding your muse.

There is no single magic trick to filling up the blank page, but I have a handful of tools in my bag that get me past my rough patches:

  1. Apply butt to chair, and write.
  2. Work in 5 to 10 minute bursts.
  3. Brainstorm.
  4. Seek inspiration from others.

Apply Butt to Chair
So I think the first one is rather obvious, but I’m surprised at how many times I find myself doing something else and avoiding the blank page.  I want to watch a movie, I want to play video games, I want to browse Facebook, I want to go read something.  It’s especially hard for me because I have Attention Deficit Hey Look a Squirrel.  Writing is work, so the first thing my AD-HLAS brain wants to do is PLAY!

It takes discipline.  It takes ironclad determination.  I ran across a song a while back by AC/DC called, It’s a Long Way to the Top.  You can watch it here:

I especially like the part with bagpipes.  How many heavy metal bands have a friggin’ bagpipe solo? Awesome!

There's a lot of truth in this song.  Writing is a lot of work.  I love watching artists who are passionate about their work, and look like they’re having fun while they're at it.  They always inspire me, and get me going again.

Work in 5 to 10 minute bursts
I’ve learned to pace myself.  When I was working my way through college, my parents got me a bunch of motivational tapes called, Where There’s a Will There’s an A.  It had a bunch of study habits that would help you study smarter.  One of the best pieces of advice that I got was to study in five or ten minute bursts.

It works really well when I’m writing, too.  If I’m at a really tough spot, I’ll sit there and focus for five to ten minutes on a problem.  At the end of the time period, then I’ll play a game of cards (I like Spades, Hearts, or plain old Solitaire).  I’ll play a few hands to give my brain a rest, then I’ll come back to it again.

Every now and then I get a spurt of inspiration, and I can go for 40 minutes or longer.  But then when I get stuck again, it’s back to a simple game so I can let my brain cool off.  If you want to try this, you might want to get one of those cheap wind-up timers, to help force yourself to shift back and forth.

Time-boxing things is really helpful.  I do this at my job, too.  Work for a short stretch, then read email, then go back to work for another short stretch.

It’s important to keep in mind consistency, and pacing.  Think tortoise and the hair.  Slow and steady wins the race.

I work best with numbered, indented lists.  I keep a rough outline of my thoughts.  Whenever I get to a point where I’m stuck, I’ll make a new bullet-point and ask a question.  Then I indent a level and start brainstorming ideas.  Here’s an example:

  1. Hero is walking along
  2. Question: What is he going to do next?
    1. Go see the witch and ask for advice
    2. Round up his friends and go bash the antagonist!
      1. This never works.  Taking the bad guy head-on is too easy.
    3. He still hasn’t tried to find out about X.  Have him focus on that.
  3. Later on that night
    1. Arrives at the castle gate.

This is sort of a contrived example, but you can kind of see how it’s just a bunch of ideas thrown into a numbered list.  When I want to flesh out an idea I indent a level and start typing some more.

I have a friend that uses mind-mapping software.  He swears by it.  It’s pretty much the same thing as making a bulleted list.  You have your core ideas at the center, then you flesh out the ideas by making deeper and deeper branches.  I don’t like it because I prefer the linear feel of indented lists.

Whatever you do, the trick is to ask yourself a question, then start writing down answers.  There really isn’t much more to it than that.  In fact, when it comes right down to it, there really is no other way to get around writer’s block besides brainstorming.

Never pick your first idea.  That one always sucks, and I guarantee you that no one will ever find it original.  I feel good once I’ve come up with about 8 to 10 good ideas.  In fact, once I’m ready to move on I’ll end up taking about half of the good ideas and throwing them all together.


Seek inspiration from other works
Sometimes, my tank is on empty, and I need to find something that is completely fresh and original.  When I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time watching movies or reading.  I’m always looking for a new idea to try.

If I run across something that’s a real zinger, my next step is to ask myself, if you were to adapt this idea to your story, what elements would you need to have in place in order for it to work?

Try this sometime.  Take an idea or a plot element from your favorite book or movie, and try and adapt it for the setting in your novel.  Sometimes you’ll find that you have to change things around quite a bit.  Sometimes you’ll find that the ideas morph into something a lot more original than you’d have thought.