Turning writing into a profession often means that you must master the art of summoning creativity on command. But the muse is not a submissive partner. Some days you’ll stare at the blank page and have no idea how to start tackling an idea. Or you may find yourself with no ideas at all, which is even more horrifying.
Do not panic. Others have been in the same place as you, and the solution they found may help you.
1 – Incubation Period
Some recent research on creativity and problem solving has found that stepping away from the problem at hand can help you come up with ideas. They call it an “incubation period,” and it is worth reading more about if you’re wondering why you have so many great ideas in the shower.
“Even when you’re doing something else, your subconscious mind works in the background. Then, all of a sudden, you may get this epiphany,” said Steven Kachelmeier, co-author of one such studies. “It happens to all of us.”
Therefore, if you’re sitting in front of a blank screen, frustrated while trying to figure out the best way to approach an idea or what to write next, it may pay to step aside. Go do something else, something that lets your mind wander and inspire you.
Richard Morgan brought up this concept in an interview. He said walking really got his ideas flowing. There is plenty of research on how walking and pacing helps you think, and it’s even an approach used by some psychologists; to have their patient walk while talking about their problems.
Just remember to have your notepad close by at all times. The only thing worse than drawing a blank is finding the perfect idea and losing it before you write it down.
2 – Freeform Writing
Katharine Grubb, author of “Write a Novel in 10 Minutes a Day”, once talked about her method to get the words flowing. As the name of her book would suggest, all it takes is ten minutes and some practice and at least a vague notion of what to write. Here’s how you do it.
First, you make sure you have at least a notion of what to write next. Then you set a timer to ten minutes and start writing non-stop. Just put everything that comes to mind to paper, even if you’re just talking about the piece instead of writing it, it doesn’t matter if it’s stupid, cliché, or predictable. Just keep those fingers moving for ten minutes, don’t worry about spelling or grammar or anything like that.
When the timer dings, set the work you just did aside and take at least an hour to breathe and cool down. Give your brain time to incubate ideas and reflect. After that, go take a look at what you wrote and see what you can revise, edit, or use.
Getting words on the page is key. It’s often easier to turn bad into good than to turn nothing into something.
3 – Crayon Drawing
Here’s an unusual method that makes use of the two previous ideas at once. It’s also a method that Chazda Hill, co-founder of Great Storybook, described in a blog post and swears by.
Here’s the rundown. First, you need to stop writing. Turn off the computer, put down the pen, leave your writing desk if you have one. Get some distance.
Then you pick up a crayon and some paper. It can be some other painting tool, as long as it has color. Pick it up, and start drawing. It doesn’t matter what you draw. You shouldn’t even think about it. Just start drawing and let your crayon flow on the paper. When you feel like you want to stop for a moment, then stop.
Examine your work. What does it look like to you? What do you think your drawing is going to be? Start talking about it, and as you talk, start adding details to make what you say about the writing true. Add lines or blobs; it doesn’t matter.
Start talking about what you’re drawing, tell a story about it; just let the ideas flow freely out of your mind. The mix of drawing and talking while relaxing should help get your creative juices flowing. It will let ideas to incubate and pop into your mind.
That’s it for now. Try one of these methods the next time you’re struggling, or try one out today just to see how they make you feel. It never hurts to have more tools at your disposal.