Preparing for a writing challenge like NaNoWriMo, or made your New Year’s resolution to write every day? Building a daily writing routine is a decision you won’t regret, but sometimes you can struggle to summon your muse. Fear not, we’ve got your back.
No one has a constant flow of great ideas and a relaxed mind to just write away, day after day. Oftentimes, even the most determined writers will encounter the dreaded writer’s block. This will affect writers of all levels, for various reasons: stress, self-doubt, perfectionism, or simply a creative rut.1
There is a simple way to overcome your blockage. The trick to find inspiration is to write anyways, no matter what.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” –Stephen King, On Writing
There’s no shortcut because to get good at something you need to exercise, and to write you need… to write.
How to climb a mountain
There is a handy trick writers can learn from experienced mountaineers. How do you climb a high mountain? One step at a time. Obviously. Here’s what makes it happen: Don’t think about the mountain top, just keep taking the next step. You can always take one more step. So, write one sentence per time, sentence after sentence, and don’t focus on the end until you reach it.
“…who would reach the summit if he had to accomplish it in one great deed, i.e., without the steps, without the strides (thus in one leap)?” –Ludwig Hohl, Notes 2
iA Writer can help: Use sentence focus to just focus on once sentence at a time. Anyone can write one sentence, and then a next one… Whatever you do, keep writing, because:
“Nothing contributes more to becoming a productive writer than a daily habit. Remember that a page a day equals a book a year.” Roy Peter Clark, Murder Your Darlings
To get you going, we’ve put together five hacks for creative writing to get your hands back on the keyboard. So, fire up iA Writer and get ready to embark on your writing adventure, once more.
Also called “Stream of Consciousness Writing”, “Brain Dumping” or “Freeform Writing”, this is a liberating and spontaneous writing exercise.3 Simply set a timer for a specific duration, typically 10-15 minutes, and start writing without any concern for grammar, structure, or coherence. The only rule is: don’t stop writing until time is up.
“Freewriting is the easiest way to get words on paper and the best all-around practice in writing that I know. To do a freewriting exercise, simply force yourself to write without stopping for ten minutes. Sometimes you will produce good writing, but that’s not the goal. Sometimes you will produce garbage, but that’s not the goal either. […] The only point is to keep writing.” –Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers
Write freely, lose control. Don’t censor or edit yourself. The goal is to bypass your inner critic and access your subconscious thoughts and ideas. Freewriting often captures raw emotions and thoughts, which you can re-use to add authenticity to your stories and characters. If you get stuck, just write “I don’t know what to write and explain why” until a new idea emerges.
2. Rewrite Something
Accomplished writers draw inspiration from their peers. Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is based on Don Quixote. You could be surprised at how many famous books were inspired by other—equally famous—books.4
Rewriting something you’ve loved will grant you insight into the craft of skilled authors. Besides making you see familiar topics from a fresh perspective, you will begin to pick up how to structure stories.
You have several approaches to choose from: you can rewrite from a different character’s perspective, transform it by altering the tone, or even modernize a period piece to fit today’s environment. Or simply recreate the same story using your unique voice and words.
3. Writing prompts and Plot Generators
A commonly used concept, that all writers know but might overlook sometimes. Writing prompts give you a starting point that you must expand upon. They exist for any genre and story length, and you can find curated lists on various websites.5
They are highly effective in sparking creativity and thanks to the internet, there’s virtually no shortage of new ones. Here are our top picks taken from several different sources:
- Satan puts you in charge of Hell
- Technology becomes illegal
- Inspire someone with 10 life lessons in food
- Write about your day from the perspective of your favorite fictional character
- As you’re browsing through a rack of sweaters, someone approaches you and says, “I need you to listen to me very carefully.”
Plot generators are a fun tool for writers seeking fresh challenges. Unlike writing prompts created by humans with themes or ideas in mind, plot generators provide randomly and independently generated story elements. When put together, the resulting prompt is usually unexpected or even illogical!
With those unusual twists and scenarios, writers have to explore new narrative directions and step out of their comfort zones. Don’t be intimidated. Do not let your inner critical voices let you hold back:
“If you hear a voice within you saying: you are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.” –Vincent Van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, October 28th, 1883
- Your character is middle-aged, principled, and dependable. The story begins on a social housing estate. A reporter investigates police corruption. The theme is: loyalty.
- Your protagonists: a bounty hunter, who is terribly incompetent + a supercomputer, who has become jaded. The plot: this is a biopunk story about transformation. It kicks off at a national conference with someone receiving an unexpected windfall. Aliens are the benign ones in this story. The twist: the protagonist will lose the last war.
With many people turning to it for the first time, or revisiting it, as a source of mental health relief, journaling experienced a resurgence during the pandemic. Three years later, it remains highly popular either for emotional well-being or as a daily writing practice. Writing a journal will help you to relax.
“Yes, you must feel when you write, free. You must disentangle all oughts. You must disconnect all shackles, weights, obligations, all duties. You can write as badly as you want to. You can write anything you want to—a six-act blank verse, symbolic tragedy, or a vulgar short, short story. Just so that you write it with honesty and gusto, and do not try to make somebody believe that you are smarter than you are. What’s the use? You can never be smarter than you are.” –Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write
Maybe you want to recount your day, describe it as if it were extraordinary, reflect on an event, or explore your emotions. Journaling is a fundamental aspect of creative writing and there are no fixed rules on how to approach it. You can start with a gratitude log, a bullet journal, or develop from a quote.6
5. Take a Trip Down Memory Lane
While journaling focuses on recent events, delving into your past is a powerful exercise that requires a bit more effort. But you might unlock a treasure trove of storytelling potential.
The taste of a childhood meal, the melody of a song, or the intensity of a personal struggle… Early memories are especially motivating, because they are free of grown-up expectations and patterns, and focus on what we experienced and felt. Writing about our childhood reminds us to be playful when you write.
“I would argue that most forms of writing—even obituaries—are forms of play.” Roy Peter Clark, Murder Your Darlings
As you write, transport yourself back to that moment and vividly describe what you saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt. Dive deep into the sensory details, and the emotions that accompanied the memory. What thoughts did you have at that time? And what about now?
However, the vision, the goal, the summit still matters: “The individual steps that enable the great ascent (which one can never do oneself) are nothing but toil, unspeakable. I have seen mountaineers. The idea that their actions are easy is pure lies. Every single step is the breaking of resistance; every breaking causes pain. / I mean, I have not taken a single step on any high-altitude climb with joy. Let that be a picture of the whole. However, happiness, cheerfulness could fill me when I thought of the whole, that is, the goal and purpose of the climb, the undertaking of the climb, the climb itself. The individual steps are simply sour. And likewise, I do not remember that sitting down to write (sitting down again!), grabbing the pen, in short, the individual, would not have been sour: its sourness could, in some cases, be drowned out by the cheerfulness that emanated from the whole, covered up, its effect negated – just like in the mountains, the sourness of the steps. / The only thing one can hope for is that the individual steps are so completely held by the whole that they happen as if unconsciously. People who deny this simply lack memory. Or, in complicated and close cases, the ability for precise observation.” Ludwig Hohl, Notes ↩