When I was the mother of two young children, I would beg babysitting time from friends so that I could write. For awhile, I had a desk stuck in a back hallway in amongst the coats and baseball bats and mittens. I'd take the kids to my my friend's house and sit at the desk and marvel at the quiet for a minute. And then I'd pick up my pen…
And not write.
Here I suddenly and at long last had time to write and no words came. No matter what I did, the words wouldn't arrange themselves on the page. My brain was simply too frazzled from rushing about getting everything organized to have the ability to form sentences.
And this still sometimes happens to me. Every morning when I first get up is the time I devote to my creative writing. It is how I start my day–with a cup of coffee and my writing pad. Usually, I know exactly what I want to work on and I get right to it. But some mornings, like today (it often seems to be a Monday), I take a sip of coffee, stare at the page, then take another sip of coffee, stare some more…and not much happens.
It happens to all of us. We set aside precious time to write and then once we get there, we can't write a thing. Or suddenly it seems imperative to do laundry. Or we write a few words and they don't sound right so we quit. The problem becomes not finding time to write, but knowing what to write when we do make the time.
Here are some ideas on how to avoid this:
1. Be Prepared. I know this might not be a pleasant topic for us creative types, for whom the thought of preparation or organization or structure is anathema. But a little advance planning can serve you well. It can be as simple as reading over what you last wrote the night before or as complicated as writing up an outline for what you want to accomplish.
2. Make Up Your Own Prompts. I have a love-hate relationship with prompts. Sometimes I think they are silly and inspid, and others I'm grateful for them, because they've jump-started a writing session. To me, the best prompts are the ones I make up myself. Keep a list in your journal and add to it often. You can use quotes, lines of poetry, first lines from published novels, a line of dialogue you heard, a phrase that is ringing about in your head.
3. Maintain a List of Topics. This is similar to #2. Keep an ongoing list of topics that you want to write about. They can be of a general nature or specific to a project. For instance, if you want to write a novel, some topics might be character bios for each character, descriptions of locations, etc.
4. Work Your Subconscious. Putting your subconscious to work for you can be a huge help. The idea is to give it something to chew on, so read over your latest writing before going to sleep. You might dream a new scene, or wake up with a line of dialogue on your mind. You can also ask your subconscious questions. Then let the question go and do something else. You'll be amazed at the answers that pop up.
5. Surround Yourself With Ideas. Writing is an inner game and an outer game. And if you're a visual person, like me, surrounding yourself with images really gets the juices going. Create a vision board for your book, tack pictures on a bulletin board, get yourself a giant post-it notepad and write huge notes and lists on it.
6. Write When You're Not Writing. Extend your writing time into thinking time. Ponder your novel while cleaning house, or compose a line of poetry on the morning commute. By keeping your writing front and center, it will be easier to access words when you do actually have time to write.
7. Read. You'd be amazed how many people I run into who want to write but can't be bothered to read. Um, there's something seriously amiss with that picture. When I'm heavily involved in a writing project, its words in, words out for me. I feel I have to read a ton to absorb enough words inside so I have them available to spit out onto the page. A little strange, I know, but there it is. Reading will inspire you, and it is the absolute best way besides writing to teach yourself to write.
Those are my ways to assist yourself to know what to write. Any other suggestions?
Photo by mmagallan, via everystockphoto.