Sometimes you just want to throw your hands in the air and say “Nope. I’m done. Out of ideas. There’s no more words left in me.” I suspect every writer – probably every creative type, for that matter – has that moment. For some of them, it may indeed be the end. For others, it just results in a hiatus, some time off while you think it over.
Figuring it might be of help to those of you out there currently “on hiatus,” as it were, I thought I’d share some of the places I’ve managed to find the muse when it appeared lost. Maybe it’ll help some of you. Maybe it’ll merely satisfy my urge to put something on this page, which of late lies dormant for far too long.
So, in no particular order, the list:
1. Books (Other people’s, preferably.)
Given the nature of my employment, I am in a unique position to snatch up bizarre tomes and peruse them at my leisure, but something that no writer – or any person capable of reading, really – should be without is a library card. I’m not much for pithy sayings, let alone some of the Reading Rainbow style “Every book is an adventure!” crap that others may spout, but I will say that reading something, especially something that’s outside of your usual wheelhouse, can provide all kinds of interesting ideas. At the very least, it can kick your mind out of whatever rut it’s trapped in, which may dislodge the creative gears.
So shag on over to a used book store, a library, a bookish friend’s house. Head to an area flooded with a topic or genre you don’t normally read. Grab something at random. Devour. But don’t merely read it while thinking to yourself “I wonder if there’s a good idea in here…” Read it as you would read something normally chosen for pleasure. If something sticks, excellent. If it doesn’t, well, at the very least you broadened your knowledge base, which is never a bad thing.
I am not a musical person, by nature. What little musical talent I once had dissipated once I was no longer able to play, and I fear the era of music that spoke to me is roughly thirty years gone at this point. Mostly when I’m listening, it’s for background noise in the car – and even then, if amusing talk radio or comedy is available, I tend to pick that over songs. But I’m sure everyone at this point has access to iTunes or a mobile device capable of running iHeartRadio. So open up your internet radio platform of choice, configure it, then set it on random. Now the important part. Don’t hit the bloody skip button! Just listen. Wait and see what comes on. Even if its something unfamiliar, or something you don’t think you’re in the mood for. In fact, if it fits one or both of those categories, even better! Again, the idea is to jar the mental machinery, try to get it rolling again, and doing things as you usually would isn’t liable to accomplish that. You might be surprised at the images or thoughts you have while listening to a given piece… might even discover a soundtrack of sorts for your current or next project.
3. Watch TV
Some people say television rots the brain, stifles creativity, or otherwise inhibits creative and intellectual pursuits. Maybe it does. But sometimes when I’m stuck, a binge on the documentaries section of Netflix is just what the doctor ordered. You may find some random fact that you were unaware of that somehow ties just right into what you’re working on, or may come across something you hadn’t thought about that spurs on new ideas. Either is good. But don’t limit yourself to just “learning” things, as amusing as drifting through TED Talks might be; sometimes a marathon of some show or another might help; maybe they left plot threads dangling somewhere that you feel you could resolve, maybe there’s a character or situation in the show you’d like to see done differently. There’s something hidden in just about everything that a writer can latch onto and put his or her own spin on, so give it a whirl. As an aside, MAX, the random-picker app that used to feature on the Playstation 3 version of Netflix, was amusing for finding things like this, but alas, he’s gone, now.
Start somewhere familiar. Put something into the search bar that relates to your work in progress. Click the first link Wikipedia coughs up. Read it. Scroll all the way down to the “See also” and “Related Articles” areas. Click one. Do this until your eyeballs bleed. You will learn things you didn’t know existed for you to learn. And some of them might even be helpful. You can do a similar thing with YouTube – my pet artist calls it the “Find Hitler” game, since she has decreed you stop when you find something with Hitler in it – as well.
5. Take a Walk
I’m not going to go on about the benefits of exercise. For me, at least, there’s far too many negatives to outweigh the potential positives of such. But taking a walk somewhere outside of your neighborhood lets you see, hear, smell and feel things you might not otherwise… and those might be useful seeds one day. Even better if your phone has a camera or audio note ability, since you can make recordings of particularly interesting finds for later study, if you’re of a mind.
This is probably the oddest one. But go on eBay. My favorite place to start is the “Weird Stuff” category. Start scrolling. You never know when an item would be just perfect for your MacGuffin, villain’s latest snazzy outfit, or “What’s in the box?!” plot moment. It’s how I found my darling, my little daughter who made me learn to love my own work. So it’s worth a try.
Hopefully one or more of those will help get the juices flowing and the words back on the page. Or at least amuse you for an afternoon. What about everyone out there? Got a go-to method for dislodging the boulders in your head? Let us know in the box below!