On getting ideas, by Deborah Jenkins

It's rare that I lack ideas for writing. I usually have too many ideas and not enough time. But, like everyone, I hit the occasional wall where I feel stuck or I'm not sure what to write next. I won't call it writers' block because I don't really believe in that. But just like my other job, where I might find it hard to explain something in a way Child A will understand, I sometimes get stuck in a writing project. Nothing seems to work. 

I'm currently writing some short stories based around the theme of Christmas/winter. I have no idea what will happen to them, but it's something I've always wanted to do. The first one got written pretty quickly and so did the next one. I felt rather smug. These stories are going to be amazing! Then, despite having had lots of ideas, and written them down, there was no spark from any of the others. I was stuck. The project went from amazing to rubbish rather quickly after that. And I berated myself for even thinking I could do it. No one has success with short stories anyway. Unless you're Helen Dunmore. Or Woody Allen.

But I decided to leave the actual writing for a while and to spend the time thinking. So, as I was doing other things, I tried to keep this project brewing away in my teapot brain (what goes in usually comes out. In a story.) And this worked. Here's what I learned: -

Notes to self (and anyone else who's interested): On getting ideas

Step away - you may not be pounding keys at the computer but you can be productive in other ways. Writing is more than typing, and taking the pressure off the 'daily word count' might be just what you need.

Watch everyone and everything - While waiting for an Indian takeaway, I watched an exchange between an older and younger waiter. It was rather terse and involved a fair bit of gesturing and scowling. I started wondering what it was like to run a family business like this one, the different demands and expectations. Then I thought how interesting it would be to write a short story about an Indian restaurant where the owner and his son have very different ideas about how business. Things escalate just before Christmas, a festival they do not celebrate, but which puts extra demands on their time. What happens? By the time our takeaway arrived, I'd pretty much planned the whole story (To be fair, it was a Friday night). 

Read - Most writers are avid readers. But you can read with an eye to your WIP as well as read for pleasure. Relishing a phrase used by a writer a while ago - sunset like a sky of geraniums - made me ponder at length on how to describe a sunset. Sometimes I make a brief note to remind myself at which point in a very good book the clue is dropped, the plot thickens, the ending unfolds. I scrutinise the beginning. What holds me? I examine the ending. Why am I disappointed/elated/frustrated? These give me ideas for my writing.

Look at your own life - Many things that have happened to you could give you ideas for your characters. That time you locked your keys in the car, in a foreign country, with a small baby and a pan boiling dry inside (or that could just be me). You will do this automatically too, but when stuck for ideas, why not put your characters through some of the crazy, horrendous, joyous things you've been through? (heavily disguised from your mother, of course)

Ask someone - It doesn't have to be a writer. When stuck for ideas, other people can be a fount of inspiration. I ran ideas for my novel past my daughter. A friend suggested modifications to my short story collection. 

I said to my husband this morning before school, "I only have after-school-today for writing my More than Writers post and I have NO ideas!  Not a single, solitary one!" 

I looked at him doubtfully. "Have you got any?" He narrowed his eyes and thought. There was milk on his chin.    

"You could write a post about how to get ideas," he said. So I did.

All photos with thanks to Pixabay

How do you get ideas when you're stuck?

Deborah Jenkins is the author of textbooks, educational articles and a novella ,The Evenness of Things, available in paperback and as a kindle e-book.

Her novel, Braver, will be published in the summer of 2022 by Fairlight Books.

Deborah wonders aloud about the crazy, inspiring and inappropriate, on her blog, stillwonderinghere.net

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