Five Tips to Jump Start Your Writing

Today’s tips come from UNO student and Fine Lines special editor and intern, David Waller


Sometimes life throws you incredible opportunities as a writer: calls for submissions to literary journals, writing contests, or the discovery of new magazines featuring material you love. You see these golden chances and think, “Yeah, I could write something for that.” You get out your pencil and notebook, word processor, or whatever medium you use to capture the visions the muses have granted you, only to discover one small problem.

keyboard workThere are no visions. You stare at a blank page and realize that you have nothing. There are few things worse to authors than writer’s block. No matter how desperate you are to get something out, ideas will not come. You cannot force yourself to be creative; you have to coax your brain and stoke some mental fires if you want to get anywhere. But how? Well, first of all, counterintuitive as it may seem, you are going to want to step away from your writing for just a little bit. If you keep thinking about it, you are just going to wind up grinding your gears. Once you have put some space between yourself and your work, here are some strategies to help the creative process along:

                #1 Pay Attention to Your Conversations.

Be an active listener in what you say when you talk to your friends, family, co-workers, etc. What stories are you telling them? What topics do you bring up? What words do you use? Chances are, if you are willingly offering the topic for discussion, it is something that comes to you naturally, something you enjoy telling people about. Your brain has already shifted out of park, so take the wheel, drive, and see where it takes you.

                #2 Look into Other Cultures.

While writers are supposed to avoid clichés, there really is nothing new under the sun. What people do not understand about this old gem, however, is that the sun covers a lot more than we give it credit for. When you feel like there are no more stories left to be told, when it seems like every possible setting, character archetype, and plot has been spent, then it is time to take a step out of the familiar and into worlds unknown. Every country and culture has its own unique stories and way of seeing the world, so a good exercise to shake your complacency and denormalize your storytelling is to research other cultures – their folklore, social norms, and etc. In doing so, you expose yourself to new perspectives, concepts, and characters that neither you nor your audience has seen before, which can give you new ways to think about and write stories.

                #3 Enjoy Other Stories.

When you find yourself with nothing to write, sometimes it help to see what else is out there. Head to the library, the movie theater, or your computer and see what you can find. No window-shoppers allowed, either. You have to engage yourself in whatever storytelling medium you have chosen, and become emotionally invested in the tale. I find that letting yourself get drawn into a good story can stir up emotions, passions, and ideas that would otherwise remain dormant, and if the story is really imaginative or awakens your mind, it can be like throwing a match on the kindling of your own creativity. I find even a bad book or film can help you write, as it may inspire you to find a better way to approach the concept or genre, transforming something dull as lead into shining gold.

#4 Do Stuff! Break Routine!

lightening - FLIf your life stagnates, your thoughts stagnate. You become no longer able to think outside the box. In that case, take a physical step outside of your cardboard cage, away from the routine, and your mind will naturally follow. Take a walk, drive around town, go to the movies, whatever. It does not matter what you do as long as it is something different. Finding yourself in a different setting than normal can move your mind in directions it would not usually go. Vacations are incredibly helpful from this perspective, but you do not need to go far from home to reap creative benefits, as long as what you do is not part of your routine. For example, I was recently hit with writer’s block, struggling to come up with a piece for this very journal. When I found myself in my school’s library, searching for materials for a class research project, the labyrinthine structure of the building and the activity of navigating it gave birth to an idea for a new story.

                #5 Ignore Everything I Told You.

The techniques listed above work pretty well for me, but here is the problem: you are not me, and I am not you. Each one of us has their own unique way of approaching the storytelling process. While it does not hurt to try new exercises, the point is to not get caught up in the lists and advice that everyone throws at you. You have your own methods of finding inspiration, of getting the wheels in your head turning, and the most important thing you can do is find them for yourself. It is the most organic option in the writing process, and it is the one most likely to get you going.

What methods do you have of kick-starting the creative process?

Have you used any of the methods above, or do you do something different? Tell us how you kindle your fire.

 – David Waller

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