Does this sound familiar?
A fellow writer recently asked for advice on how to complete a story when the inspirational well has gone dry. He said that a seed of an idea or fragment of a concept may arise either spontaneously as he goes about his day, or while brainstorming. He writes his ideas down to later try going somewhere with them in hopes of creating a complete, cohesive story.
Some of his ideas take shape, while others sputter and die. Those that do take shape may run into a brick wall when it comes time to edit or rewrite. What do you do when you have an idea that you like, that you can see, at least a ways down the road, but you cannot figure out what to do with? he asked.
His comments grabbed my attention because this is how I had felt about my longer fiction. I could have described my inspiration and attempts to carry it forward using the same words that he did. I have pieces going back a decade that start with a fun, arresting idea – and fizzle almost as quickly as a bang-up beginning takes shape on the page. I finally decided to focus on one of them as a novel (or novella – let’s not push it for the first one out of the gate) and other writers are liking it!
Since our initial blast of inspiration and subsequent lack of it sounded so similar, I thought what was working for me might work for him, as well. So here’s what I told him.
Remove the constraint that your story must be written sequentially. Your ideas may not develop in sequential order. The process of creating is more like putting a puzzle together, with a piece here and another there. So, I ask you – were you trying to develop your story sequentially? If so, remove that constraint. It frees the imagination.
Let the visuals develop in your mind, then describe them. Don’t think in terms of words or narrative. Let the images fill themselves in, and when you get a solid visual (maybe with color, maybe not), then just describe it. It may be for the story you want to work on, it may be another on your to-do list, or a new one altogether. You’ll find that the images flow. It’s kind of like allowing yourself to dream, then describing the dream in words.
Don’t try to direct your thoughts in a predetermined direction. Let your imagination develop its own notion of the specified subject. Several months ago, I signed up for a course on storytelling. An assignment specified a particular topic, and each student was supposed to write a short story about it. When I sat down and let my thoughts wander, they were creative enough. Technically, it was on topic – but very far from what most of us would envision upon hearing the word “cheap”. The point is, do you let your ideas flow without trying to direct or constrain them? You may not stay precisely on topic, or on your original idea – if any – of what that topic was, but you may find that your unrestrained thoughts will reward you with something you’d never yet imagined.
What else I’ve discovered is that the more I let my imagination have free rein, the easier it is, at other times, to direct it to stay on topic. Or, at least on a particular story or book. My thoughts may leap forward, backward, or sideways, but will contribute something toward filling in the big picture. The puzzle takes shape!
Does this help? Give it a few days and give it a whirl. I’d like to know how it goes.
His response (short version):
You made my month! Your advice and guidance is just what I needed, and I cannot express enough my thanks to you for taking the time to write out an entire process which will help me become a better writer! WOW and OMG!
I sat down to give it a try, closing my eyes and let the story fall away, letting my mind drift to [my topic]. … I visualized it and then let it go out of focus to see where it took me. I’ll say that your idea, your suggestion, your counsel on how to “let go” worked!
He has now posted a few more stories for critique. He has become Unstuck.
We each have our own creative process – what works for one may not work for another. If this works for you, too, I’d be interested in hearing more about your experience.
September 19, 2020