Thursday, May 5, 2011

Coming Up Blank

The wonderful thing about writing is that you can always make something out of nothing. It really is the original perpetual motion machine!

If you have a bad day, or a crap interaction, it immediately becomes fodder for your work. Inane conversations on the bus become a lesson in realistic dialogue. Annoying health problems or injuries suddenly manifest in your character and increase the depth of characterisation.

Today I was really stuck for something to blog about, then I realised I could blog about the fact I could not blog about something:)

All writers seem to approach their work from a different angle, and be inspired by different things. So what to do when you come up blank?

Some writers are inspired by natural settings, by the feeling of the landscape itself. I know for myself, some very weird characters and magical ideas can emerge from a quiet natural landscape, especially during storms and at twilight. At the very least it injects some reality into descriptions of scenery and setting.

Others are driven by the ideas themselves (this is very true for me). I can get inspired by interesting non-fiction, good books, films, and other weird ideas or what-ifs that occur to me in my more wistful moments.

Another thing that often gets me going is to plot out maps and put together drawings of the cities where the story takes place. Others might paint characters (I am total crap at drawing) or spend time imagining the settings of the story to get enthused. You can look for movies, books, pieces of music or art that inspire you for the piece you are writing.

I know many writers who write to music. Many take it even further than this - one writer friend of mine has collections of music for different types of scene. If there is an action scene coming up he puts all his 'action' CDs into the player.

Of course to be creative, you also need enough sleep (a challenge for me I can tell you) and to be in good frame of mind. The quality of your food, the amount of rest you get. Health is often neglected by writers, but has a huge impact energy levels. What do you do for stress reduction? That's important as well. How about exercise? Small amounts of low impact activity have been well demonstrated to have large positive effects. Walk the dog.

What do you do when you look for inspiration? Or do you subscribe to the notorious Idea of the Month Club?


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris, I've spent the last three days, 10 - 12 hours a day, going through book 2 of my new series.

Right now I feel about as flat as a pancake. But I know in a day or two I'll bounce back.

Dave Freer said...

There's a sekrit handshake club, Chris. They give out ideas once you're inside (which they buy in bulk, flash frozen, from China. They used to get them from local suppliers, but they outsourced it) in between conspiring to keep various people out of print or success. Right now we're busy making sure less women get onto Hugo ballots. Sorry and all that, but it's much more exclusive than than the idea of the month club. It's actually run by editors, we believe, which is why they get bought. It's hard to tell: We all wear hoods, and our master is called 'the Spawn'...

PS. I have discovered they actually own the Sydney Opera House, and they're very low on funds for their next campaign. I can get you a good deal...

Brendan said...

I know the right musci an help if I really need to rev the inspirational motors. Playing Dramaic build tunes like Clint Mansell's Requiem for a Dream and Carl Orff's O Fortuna(and yes I ignore the lyrics to that one unless I am writing a death scene).

MataPam said...

I get my best ideas when I cannot write them down. A five hour long drive is just perfect.;)

If that fails, I pull out the manuscript that's ripe for editing. Guaranteed I'll come up with something that _must_ be written down _right_ _now_.

Actually, I've got a backlog of ideas jotted down, a situation, a character sketch, a couple thousand words of worldbuilding.

The question is, will they ever grab me again, the way they did originally?

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


What Dave said. Only I get way too many ideas. Not sure why. Some glitch in the system.

So... buddy, want some of mine.

Word verification: Trouship. "It was some days before our adventurers discovered their submarine was in fact a giant's discarded trousers. It was in fact a Trouship."

Kate Paulk said...

Sarah - "the truly dispiriting thing about the trouship was the location of the escape hatch. We had wondered why such a bizarre interlocking device was required for the long, narrow airlock, and now several crew members were desperately in need of fresh air and too fearful of the true nature of the airlock to venture out..."

PTerry's theory of ideas. Permanently sleeting down until they hit a receptive mind. This is why tinfoil hats are such an important fashion accessory.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. Time to go to the art gallery and get inspired by all that art you love?

Chris McMahon said...

Dave, you are giving away all the secrets! Actually I think they only own half the Opera House, but we are not allowed to say which half:)

They also employ metaphorical 'leg-breakers', sleepers who pose as writers and go to critique groups to demolish troublesome targets.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Brenda. The link between music and fiction really fascinates a lot of writers. Many writers are also frustrated musicians - frustrated because the commitment required to get anywhere with writing effectively trumps just about every other pursuit.

I have gone through phases with it. Sometimes I really need silence to concentrate, at the moment I am enjoying music again as part of the atmosphere. That is me being typically fickle.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Matapam. Sounds like you need to trick yourself. Maybe there is a hypnosis CD 'Making Ideas Come When I Am Sitting With Blank Paper And Not As Distraction.' Maybe check on ebay?

Be honest though - you are one of the contributors to the Chinese company that supplies the flash-frozen fodder for the Idea of The Month Club aren't you?:)

Seriously though, I know what you mean about the ideas losing their intial 'zing'. I think that is all part of the process though - the initial conception is the driver. I would not worry too much about it, that energy is just transforming into something else - prose, storyline etc.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. No! Don't give me any more ideas! I can't possibly deal with the ones I have already.

Crucial information needed through - had the trousers been through the wash or not? Goes to setting:)

Chris McMahon said...

Hey, Kate. Must seriously try that tin foil. Maybe we could make some extra cash selling them at conventions?