by Libby Malin
So it's holiday time, when all good writers pen their letters to Santa, asking for. . . inspiration, time, film options in the seven figures with producers who can snap their fingers and have projects come together in the blink of an eye. . . .
I'd be happy with all those things (and maybe a Kindle, too--please, Santa. . .), but today I'm going to address only one of them and how to get it without help from Kris Kringle.
That is, inspiration. Or, more specifically, the ability to keep writing when the muse is off stuffing herself with holiday cookies.
All writers have different approaches to lighting the fuse of creativity, but sometimes even the brightest-burning flame flickers out, leaving you bereft and searching, staring at a computer screen, or out the window, or at that plate of cookies you wish you'd not left so close to the desk.
Over the years, I've developed a number of tricks to help me strike the match and get my creativity glowing. When I first began writing, the best and most effective strategy was for me to set daily page quotas. Three double-spaced pages a day was my goal, nothing extravagant, very doable. Yet, sometimes even making that goal was tough, and I'd keep scrolling down the page to see just how much space I had left to fill. Nonetheless, this trudge-through approach did result in manuscripts, even if they needed editing.
Once I knew I could finish a manuscript, new winds blew out my flame. I'd stop at a plot crossroads, unable to continue as I considered what would happen if Jane did X instead of Y, if John took the train to San Diego instead of to San Antonio.
Time for a new trick--at that kind of plot indecision stall, I would start writing scenes single-spaced. This shift seemed to give my imagination "permission" to play with ideas because, after all, everyone knows a real manuscript is double-spaced. Single-spacing is so unofficial.
But sometimes my problem wasn't an overabundance of plot ideas. Sometimes, it was a dearth of them. There are days I can't seem to get John or Jane to make the train reservations at all, let alone choose the destination. That's when I realize the problem is characterization, not plot. I'm trying to fit a square (character) peg into a round (plot) hole.
Next trick--interviewing my characters, sometimes on paper, sometimes by talking out loud (yes, that's who I'm talking to alone in my car as I drive to and fro). I ask them, what do you want to do, what do you want out of life, where are you going? The answers often surprise me, but I'm back to the page, the creativity candle burning.
I asked some writer friends about their tricks. Here are a few:
Set a timer and write until it dings. No matter what the writing quality is, it helps you move past a writing funk, or a procrastination problem.
Journal in first person POV as if you are one of your characters, using stream-of-consciousness to keep you going.
Type in a smaller font. Like my "single space" trick, this tactic gives you permission to experiment, since you know you'd never submit pages set in anything but 12 point Times New Roman.
Write longhand for awhile, tackling particularly troublesome scenes.
Take a break and read some nonfiction research material.
Redo your office space -- new day, new atmosphere, new chances to shine as a writer.
Those are the tricks I've learned--what are yours?