On writer’s block and inspiration

It’s Christmas Eve morning and the oven is cleaning. Soon, I’ll be in the kitchen baking another couple of batches of cookies to deliver to neighbors and friends. This evening we’ll have our annual holiday meal with friends/family. Tomorrow we’ll open gifts and then collapse to try to recover. Pretty much what so many other families around the world will be doing. Making this a particularly special Christmas is the fact my son is home. This is the first time I’ve seen him in six months and it’s possible we won’t see one another for another two years because of his next assignment. So, we are doing our best to enjoy the time we have together. So, my brain isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders this morning.

That said, I never quite manage to turn off the writer. I still check the headlines and blogs for writing related news. One item that caught my eye this morning comes from Slog and shows why we should look at social media as a love-hate relationship. Yes, it is a way to connect with friends and fans. But it is also a way to post an innocent and well-meaning statement and find yourself under attack for it. No, I’m not talking about the cis-males and glittery hoohahs. In this instance, someone took to Tumblr and asked, “what advice do you have for someone that has had writers block for the past 6 or 7 years?”

That seems like a simple enough question. Looking at it — and not reading any of the responses — it seems to me that someone who either considers himself to be a writer or who wants to be a writer is asking for advice. Nor did the response from Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis really surprise me. It’s pretty much what I would have said, although I hope I would have been a bit more diplomatic about it. Whether I would have or not, I do agree with Bendis when he responded, “this will sound harsh but you’re probably not a writer. writer’s writer every day. it’s ok, not everyone is. but if you consider yourself one, get off your ass and get back to work!! write about why you haven’t been writing . anything. just write. ”

Now, Bendis begins with the warning that his comment might sound harsh. Then he goes on to point out that writers write. And he is correct. Sure, there are times when what we write is nothing but crap. There are days when many of us just stare at the display or paper and nothing comes. But we keep trying and we look for inspiration. We don’t — or at least we shouldn’t — just sit there and contemplate our navels and accept the fact that the words aren’t coming. We change projects. We blog. We do free-writing. Or we just push through.

I’ll admit, I don’t know what the original commenter’s situation might be. But what floored me were the comments attacking Bendis and others who came to his support. What was basically a “get up off your butt and pull up your big boy pants and get to work” comment became fodder for a flame war. Proving once again why so many authors are starting to step back from a lot of social media. It is also an example of how you have to ask yourself if you really need to hit that “enter” button. That is certainly true if you are responding to the negative comments. What are the potential benefits to responding and how do they stack up against the probable detrimental effects of continuing the debate?

In other words, do you have the time to continue with the conversation or would you be better off doing exactly what you just told the wannabe writer to do — write?

On a happier note, I came across two links this week that are full of inspiration. At least they are if your mind is as warped as mine is. The first is a list of “The 35 Most Hauntingly Beautiful Abandoned Ruins on the Planet.” Just looking at some of the photos had flashes of storylines dancing in my head. The shot of the Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea had me thinking about a space ship, long dormant, suddenly coming to life and breaking free through the surface of the planet. What would cause it to suddenly come back online? What about the occupants of the ship when it first arrived here? Were they, or their descendants, still alive and onboard or had they died off? Perhaps they had left the ship before it was buried under all those tons of earth and had set up an enclave somewhere. So many questions and so many places a plot to happen.

The shot of Six Flags New Jazz Land instantly brought to mind a zombie story. Do zombies ride roller coasters? Instead of cotton candy, do they eat spun brains on a stick? (Okay, you knew I was weird)

Each and every one of those images, especially the ones from places I have actually been to, could be the basis of a story or a setting in a novel. Each one spoke to me, some louder than others. And, yes, at least one will make it into an upcoming work.

The next site that offered inspiration comes from io9: 9 Ruined Cities That Remain a Mystery To This Day. As with the previous link, I’ve been to a couple of the locations listed. But to sit in the comfort of my living room, looking at the pictures, I find myself marveling at the people and civilizations that are no longer here. What were their lives like? What caused them to abandon their cities? Was it the same thing as our historians and archaeologists have surmised or something different? How can I take those images and adapt them to a future history story or an alternate history story? What if I set it on another planet?

So, to go back to the original link and the question posed, if you are a writer and are having trouble writing, look for inspiration. Once you find it, then sit your butt down in the chair and write. It doesn’t have to be every day — although that helps. It does need to be regular. It needs to become a habit. Writers write. It is our profession and avocation.

What do you do to find inspiration?

18 thoughts on “On writer’s block and inspiration

  1. Dreams, daydreams, responses to other ideas. The last one causes me to comment on things a lot. Probably too much. Uses up some of my words.

    Sometimes old ideas resurface. It probably wouldn’t be particularly useful to devote time to the Megas XLR fanfic I thought of years ago, except that it has come back to roost in my brain again.

    1. Often dreams. There is something so all encompassing and yet open ended about them. I’ve had dreams of hiding with other rebels from giant floating sharks and I’ve had dreams about people who had parts of their bodies replaced with nano-tech in order to pilot spaceships or work in vaccuum with their “real” hands sticking out of the space suit. (That one, quite bizarrely, involved a random boy from my high school class.)

      My daughter (the one who fails English and any other test that involves writing) had a dream the other night and wrote a whole page and a half of new story and is doing character designs… I think she posted it… http://mayberry12.deviantart.com/art/Alex-421801593

      1. Oh! That’s one thing I HATE, reading or writing in a dream, because for some reason I understand what I’m reading, but I can’t SEE it, and it’s the hardest thing to remember.

        Kiwi came out of a dream. Yeah, I have those kinds of sick dreams….

      1. Oh, the serial numbers would have to remain on that one. It was basically my idea of a season finale, rather than the usual attempting to ship the characters or inject a Mary-sue.

        Dunno how familiar you are with the show, but the idea was that in a training session, Coop accidentally finds the Glorft homeworld, where they are friendly and peaceful, but they don’t trust them, having only experienced their thousand year later descendants. various running gags from the show happen, and in the end, Coop accidentally trashes the planet, igniting the very war against humanity that he was training to end.

        The title, of course, would be “Full Circle.”

  2. Awesome photos. Viewed all together they evoke an eerie, post-human feeling. Don’t really like it.

    I’m wondering how we define writing. I write regularly, but, now that my boys have left for college and I’ve gone full time at the day job, I find I can write or edit or publish or market. I am mindful of the admonition to keep working on one thing until it’s done (which is sometimes honored more in the breach, but there you go). I don’t write fiction every day, and in December I write nothing. I’ve found a cover artist and given the ms to beta readers so there’s progress, but Christmas otherwise overwhelms me. I have figured out how to end a short story (not the right one, but ok). The question is, do people think editing, publishing and marketing count as writing? It’s a balance, I suppose.

  3. Like Dr. Mauser, I get ideas from daydreaming. But they also pop up while I’m reading (usually history – what if X had not happened?) Music sometimes kicks something into gear, sometimes not. I also had two novellas pop up from a throw-away comment in another story. That led to a whole new character with her own setting (Southern New Mexico State University) and a story based on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ but set on a ranch in northern Colorado. Sometimes I think my muse drags stuff home from the odds-n-sods bin at Goodwill.

  4. Blocked for _years_? Dude, I hope you mean on a specific project and are still writing other stuff, because otherwise all those hard learned skills have faded, and you might as well take up painting or crocheting or something for a hobby.

    When I get blocked for a day or two–I read over the WIP and find out where it veered away into “Doesn’t work.” Any more than that, and especially if I can’t do a bit on another project, I change my diet, drop the latest breakthrough OTC allergy med, get more sleep and that usually takes care of it.

  5. My problem with “writers write” is that it’s sometimes paired with “writers can’t not write”, which makes the writing part (the hard part) into a sort of effortless compulsion… sort of like how romances make fidelity into an effortless component of being in love. OTOH, as someone who can easily find other interesting and far less effortful creative outlets than putting words on paper (and the right words on paper at that), I do absolutely agree that writers write. Like love and fidelity it’s an act of the will and takes some effort, but you do it because you value it even if it’s work.

    OTOH, I’ve had several years of a creative dry well where there were no stories and I know the stress that caused it. I thought it was going to college since it started at about the same time but now that it’s eased I know that all college steals is time and priorities, not creativity. If someone says that the stories don’t come… I’m inclined to believe them. That’s a little different from not being able to get the butt in the chair and the hands on the keyboard. It’s different from having the story in your head – or the character or the situation – and not knowing quite where to start.

    I’m pretty stoked, actually, to be back in a place where there *are* stories and now I just need to focus on the will and getting past my habitual snagging points and yes, writers write, so write!

    Last year that advice would have done me no good whatsoever.

    1. “Writers can’t not write”. Makes me think of the two different types of artists I’ve worked with in the past. Some agonize over every line and fiddle forever with each piece. They’re not horribly productive, but when they’re finished, they have an intricate masterpiece. But all they can see when they look at it are the flaws and the things they wish they’d done differently.

      Then there are the ones who effortlessly sketch like mad on anything that can’t move away fast enough. They have a fluidity and speed that is a marvel to behold, but often they’re so distracted by what they want to do next, they rarely, if ever, produce a finished work.

      The first kind are typically very attached to their work, and if you see them on DeviantArt, they’re the ones most likely to ruin their works with a massive watermark and admonitions not to steal or repost it anywhere. The second kind treats their work as virtually disposable. They don’t care what happens to it while they do the next thing that pops into their heads.

      There is some middle ground, but it’s very sparsely populated.

  6. In a weird twist of North Korean culture, people there were not eve supposed to acknowledge the hotel’s existence because it was such a massive construction disaster. They just ignored it even though you can see it from anywhere in Pyongyang.

  7. For inspiration: sit in chair at usual time and ask myself if I want to stop writing this story.

    The answer is always no.

    The next question is what’s next? and what haven’t I figured out about this scene? It either leads to writing – and to digging deeper – and either works.

    Digging deeper emotionally into a scene hurts – but gets the good stuff out. It’s almost that is it doesn’t hurt yet, it’s not ready for actual writing, only more digging.

    I do the ‘digging’ onscreen so I have the use of any bits and pieces of inspiration that happen during the process. Most of it doesn’t get used, but I have to do that. I have to KNOW, even if the reader isn’t going to get TOLD directly.

    1. The simplicity of that seems so powerful. I think that I will borrow it. “Do I want to stop writing this story?” I tend to flit from one thing to the next, but if I asked that question before flitting… I know that the answer would be no.

      No, no, no… I do not want to stop writing *this* story.

  8. I have never had a real writer’s block yet, unless you count the one during midwinter which SAD gives me, but I’d guess at least for me one way to get over it, if it will happen when I _can_ concentrate on one thing long enough to do something like figure out what would be a logical way a scene might unfold and so should be able to write, might be to choose a subject which will resonate emotionally with me, but write the story badly on purpose.

    Perhaps especially using something which comes from those parts of myself I don’t like much, and which I normally prefer to suppress. We all have those stories in there – maybe smut, maybe bloody revenge fantasies, whatever, there is always something. So for once give those parts free reign. Write those stories, write them badly, delete them afterwards (or maybe even publish them if you dare – provided they aren’t something which would get you arrested – considering that some really weird stories seem to sell. Maybe use a different name).

    My guess is that blocks can come from feeling discouraged, getting that feel that maybe what you are producing just is not good enough. Or maybe also from the fear that what you write shows too much of yourself, especially considering the way stories often get analyzed nowadays with people looking for all kinds of hidden meanings. And then your always helpful subconscious decides that not doing is preferable to not doing well enough. So decide to write awful stories which totally embarrass you and to do it horribly badly. Might confuse the censoring part well enough that it doesn’t notice when you get back to trying to write well.

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