There’s nothing quite so satisfying for a writer as when the creative well overflows, when your characters pull you out of bed every day, begging you to tell their story and give them life. For most writers, these creative bursts are rare, fine moments. Treasure them while you can! In between these deeply imaginative times, you can accomplish solid work, but the process feels a bit more like “work.” There is less a sense of divine flow to our typing fingers, and more of a struggle to figure out what Ted will say to Jane next. A much higher percentage of our pages are produced in this fashion.
But what do you do when your typing fingers stall completely? When the creative well dries like your heroine’s mouth after she first sees the hero? Time to woo your Muse and indulge in a little creative regeneration. Having stared at my own office walls for one too many hours, I’ve devised a plan of action to court the Muse and put her back to work.
1. Run, don’t walk, away from your computer.
If you’re not getting anything accomplished, don’t beat yourself up in your office chair. My wise critique partner calls this reaching the point of diminishing returns. You can slave for four painstaking hours at the computer to produce three average pages, but why bother when you can recharge for three hours and whip off five inspired pages when you come home? When your work stalls, give yourself permission to take a day or two off to play.
2. Read outside the genre.
You can read inside the genre too, if that’s what calls you. But don’t read five of your friends’ new releases because you feel obligated. That counts as working. Browse a section outside the romance shelves. Chances are you read more widely before you started writing. Those were the days that inspired you to become a writer! Hunt down an author you haven’t read in years or unearth someone new.
3. Can I have some popcorn with that?
Go to the movies. Or head to the video store and rent a whole pile of movies. Enjoy the unfolding of someone else’s story. Steal a few character traits for the people in your book.
4. Where’s my beret?
Do something artsy. Coerce a friend into visiting a museum or seeing Shakespeare in the park with you. Go to a street festival and walk around the arts and crafts tables, dance to the music. Take a bubble bath while Wagner blasts in the background. If a house full of little ones prohibits solitude, pack them in the car and take a nature drive, CD player blaring Sheryl Crow for a little inspiration. Immersing yourself in other artistic mediums will have you running back to your keyboard in no time. But if it doesn’t??
5. Indulge in a writers’ salon.
Before writers felt compelled to produce multiple books a year, writers and artists gathered to talk about Real Life and human nature, their art and its place in the world. This is how writers like Gertrude Stein and Anais Nin, Henry Miller and Collette spent their free time. You can too! But keep in mind that a salon environment wouldn’t be as structured as a writers’ conference. Maybe it would be more like the scene in the bar after the conference. There is a free exchange of ideas, a dynamic creative flow that touches everyone present. So gather some writer friends for coffee and gab, gab, gab.
6. Every picture tells a story.
Long before you could read, you looked at the pictures. Remember those picture books from childhood that didn’t need words to create a rich story in your mind? You only needed to see the boy in his wolf suit dancing among the monsters, and your imagination ran wild. Its just as much fun today if you hit the library and pull a stack of art books off the shelves. Curl up on the sofa and spend an afternoon looking at the pictures. You’re bound to come across something highly evocative, a story just begging to be told.
7. Visit the toy box.
Maybe what you really need is a day to play games. This trick only works if you promise not to use it constructively. Line up all your friends in your mind. Take one characteristic from each of them and stick it on to a fictional “blank” character. Use Abigail’s habit of interrupting people, Bethany’s boundless enthusiasm, Cindy’s guilt complex, etc., until you’ve created a unique individual. Can you see this person, make them talk? Or go people watch in the airport and make up stories for them. You’ll come home full of fresh ideas for your characters.
8. Talk to strangers.
I learned this trick from my dad, the best storyteller I know. He always has something interesting to say about his day-a funny story, a kernel of wisdom, a tale of adventure. Where does a farmer turned truck driver come up with this great material? Dad isn’t exactly James Bond. But everyday he talks to people. Better yet, he knows how to listen. He asks the woman at the checkout about her day, and she’s more than too happy to tell him. He makes a casual observation to a fellow farmer at the market, and he gets an ear full. These varied voices are great inspiration for dialogue, they give you alternate views of life, and they increase your emotional empathy-a key component for good writing. We can’t write about human nature if we don’t embrace it.
Sooner or later, your Muse will come waltzing back, rejuvenated and ready to work. Welcome her home! And remember, she’s only as happy as you are, so enjoy the creative wave and have fun with that next book.