I’ve found it helpful over the past few weeks to re-write two short stories I first wrote a number of years ago. They’ve existed in various forms and lengths, and are now significantly shorter (and I hope better) than they were. I actually started one with the idea of it being a novel, but having got to around 25,000 words, and realising that many of those were padding, I decided the best parts would make a good short story.
I’ve worked on these two stories as a way of getting back into Lives Interrupted. Due to recent circumstances getting back into the flow of editing a novel has felt like climbing Everest. On numerous occasions I’ve opened my file of 'changes to make and tasks I’ve completed', and not been in the headspace to do anything. It has been quite a scary experience, even though I keep telling myself it will pass, but working on the short stories has been therapeutic.
I’ve had occasions previously when I’ve been stuck on a plot point, or not been sure how to get to where I think the characters should be heading, but these have been minor obstacles. I think of them as stagnant times. The dictionary defines stagnant as:
- Not flowing or running
- Stale or foul from standing
- Characterised by lack of development, advancement, or progressive movement
These definitions are linked by movement, and movement has always been the way I’ve dealt with stagnant times.
I discovered years ago that I had great ideas for plots, stories, articles, letters etc. while I was out walking or running. And on occasions when I’ve been stuck on a plot point, or the direction to take a scene, I’ve gone out for a walk or run specifically to get the creative juices working. I’m not sure of the science behind it, but it works, and I’ve read heaps of other articles and blogs that talk about walking your way through a plotting quagmire.
I think it’s got a lot to do with being away from the computer screen, and freeing up the mind to wander. I’ve also found that taking some time out in a park, or at the beach with a notepad is good. I usually write straight to my laptop but sometimes the change in writing on paper helps with the creative flow.
This can feel like you’re just slacking off, but I’ve often pushed myself too hard and for too long, and then found just a short time into my walk that the ideas have come.
In a more general way I also find reading useful, probably not so much with specific plot problems, but in a generally creative way, or as a starting point for ideas.
Don’t knock the power of water either. I’ve heard business speakers talk about the creative ideas that come while taking a shower.
Writing is a solitary profession, and if like me, you work from home for your daytime job, it can mean you spend a lot of time in your own head. Join other writers, in workshops or events, writing groups. Failing that you can always fall back on technology and skype or email.
Other writers know what it's like in that lonely place when things just aren’t working out.