SparkNotes Blog

What to Do When Your Creative Writing Fountain Springs a Leak

Ever have a moment where your creativity just seems to have vanished into the abyss of a writer’s worse nightmare?

I’ve been there and it’s a terrible feeling. And sometimes there just isn’t enough ice cream and peanut butter in the universe to cheer me up and regain my creativity.

But thankfully I’ve discovered some helpful tips to get those ideas flowing again.

  • Look at pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. You’ll be amazed at what ideas will pop into your head! Go to photography websites or check out photographers’ pages/collections on Facebook or Google+. If you find one that catches your eye, bookmark it, save it, or print it (if it’s permissible to do so) and then write down everything that comes to your mind when you see that photograph. One of those things might just be perfect for your next story! I actually have a folder of notes for future books that I got all from photos.
  • Create a word box. Ok, this might sound a little weird at first, but stay with me! Write down words on little pieces of paper, put them in a box or container with a lid, shake it up, and then pick out three words to use for a story. I’m a fantasy author, so my box has genre related words such as dragon, wizard, magic, etc. But I also have unrelated words like snow, dancing, butterflies, and even orange. The idea is to put words in your box of things that interest you or that you find intriguing. Even something that pops into your head for no apparent reason. Put it in the box! I mean seriously, why the heck do I have ‘orange’ in my box. It’s not my favorite color or fruit. Whatever possessed me to put it in there, I have no idea, but hey, it might turn into something awesome that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Use your word box seriously or just as a fun exercise to get your writerly juices flowing.
  • Writing prompts. There are tons of places out there where you can find some awesome prompts. Writing Forward has twenty-five to get you started. Some I’ve come across are rather silly and some are more philosophical and thought-provoking. But the idea, just like the word box, is just to have a starting point and get words down on a page. Again, some can be used as an exercise to get you warmed up, and some may be able to be used as a scene in a short story or book. Either way, you’ve got your brain flowing.
  • Change your setting. We all get tired of sitting in the same room, staring at the same wall, wondering why we can’t think of a incredible start to our next story. Don’t just sit there! Try a different room in the house. Sit outside. Go to a café or coffee shop. Settle in at your library or favorite bookstore. Heck, camp out at a museum or art gallery. Putting yourself in a different setting can help you relax and forget about whatever stressors in your regular environment were blocking your creativity. And you might just observe something that will spark an idea.
  • Look around you. Take this both literally and figuratively. I’ve gotten the name of an elven city in one of my books from the color of the curtains in my office. (Lilendvelle, in case you were wondering!) I’ve gotten an idea for a story by simply looking out my window and picturing a young woman doing the same. But don’t limit yourself to what you can actually see. Read the news. Find out what’s happening in the world. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a good example. What if people in your fictional world started dying or becoming ill because they ate or drank a certain food? What if an epidemic broke out? What if one of your characters was kidnapped? What if there was a riot?

I don’t want to imply using these scenarios as a way to poke fun of people in these circumstances, but use it as a starting point. Develop and change it to fit within the confines of the world you’ve created. In my short story series, the Ebola outbreak of 2015 was the initial inspiration for the third story. My epidemic, however, was caused by magic and the only cure (you guessed it) was with magic. But, in the story, there were only a handful of people with the power to heal. I was able to delve into the minds and hardships of the few characters struggling to cure hundreds upon hundreds of people.

Using situations such as this for inspiration accomplishes two major things:

1. It makes your story more real and relatable, even if it’s in a completely imaginary world with dragons and unicorns. And being able to do that is an amazing thing.

2. It makes your readers think and reflect upon things happening in their world. And let’s face it, that’s pretty awesome as well! After all, talking about something is the first step toward change.

  • Don’t be afraid! This is certainly easier said than done, but many times our fear of creating something mediocre prevents us from creating anything at all. Don’t worry about a plot or character sounding silly. Maybe in your world, a butterfly assassin who eats oranges is perfectly legit. Maybe a wizard with a pet chipmunk can only wield his magic if he dances.

Certainly don’t be afraid of writing something because it might offend someone. This took me a little while to conquer, but I finally did and my writing is so much better as a result. I’m not suggesting that you intentionally write something inflammatory or offensive. But don’t allow fear of offense to dictate your writing.

Do you have any tips to add to this list? What helps you get your creative juices flowing? What are some ways you come up with ideas for your stories? We’d love to hear them.