Greetings, SE’ers! Beem Weeks here with you again. Today, I am going to share some ideas for breaking through the dreaded writer’s block.
I can honestly say I’ve never struggled with this issue. If I have an idea for a story, I jot it down on a Post-It note or a piece of paper. Then, when time allows, I sit down and begin creating.
However, I do understand many writers suffer from writer’s block. So, I’ll share some of the things I use to prime the writing pump.
The first thing a writer needs is inspiration. A writer without inspiration is like a kite without wind. You’ll never get the story off the ground. I find inspiration for stories in all sorts of places. I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store, and a verbal exchange between a customer and a clerk will stir some of those brain cells inside my head. And they don’t have to be conversations filled with major revelations about life. They can be a simple exchange that just captures my imagination. As creative writers, we can take mundane things and transform them into the extraordinary—or, at the very least, something entertaining.
A television program might even present to me a What if? What if the story didn’t end with the young couple escaping the burning building together? What if she made it out but he didn’t? The story moves from a happy ending to a dark beginning, with the young woman facing a future without her one true love.
I read an article in Smithsonian magazine several years ago. It told the story of a breakthrough in treating childhood leukemia in the late 1960s. This article inspired me to create a character, to put this character into harm’s way, then rescue her from that dreaded disease using that very breakthrough.
My late father inspired a couple of essays detailing some of the silly things he did just to entertain me and my siblings when we were quite young. These are personal stories that allow me to share my memories and keep my father alive and present.
Jazz Baby comes from multiple inspirations. Emily Ann (Baby) Teegarten is a conglomeration of three girls I knew once upon a time (and a few I did not know). These girls, though now responsible and well-adjusted adults, were once reckless, wild, and moving in the wrong direction. Curiosities had them wanting to grow up long before they were ready. Bad things happened to those girls, though they survived and came out stronger and wiser. The era in which the story is set (the Roaring Twenties) can be attributed to stories my Grandfather told. He had a knack for crafting stories that pulled listeners into the moment. In a scene where Emily is crossing the Mississippi River, telling Tanyon Thibbedeaux about giant catfish dwelling beneath the surface, well, that comes from an old family photograph my grandfather took of my aunt and uncle. As children of eight and nine years of age, they posed beside a pair of caught catfish that could have easily swallowed either child.
A documentary about a young girl with schizophrenia inspired my short story entitled Came the Flood. I took that inspiration, did some research on the illness, the treatments, and the reality for both those who suffer from it and those who watch loved ones slide into that darkness, and created my own tale.
Sometimes the inspiration is personal. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease during the last ten years of her life. I recall those conversations with her as the disease began to take its toll. We’d be chatting away, just like old times, when she’d suddenly stop in mid-sentence and ask, “Now, who are you again?” This would happen every few minutes. I’d tell her I’m her grandson. She’d give a little dismissive laugh and tell me to stop kidding. I’d tell her again who I am, and we’d just continue with our conversation—only, she’d start from the beginning and repeat most of what she’d already said. But every so often she’d truly recognize me and would ask a meaningful question or two, before vanishing in the haze of her affliction once again. These memories of my time visiting my grandmother became the inspiration of a short story called Sweetie Girl.
And then there are those ideas that just come to me. They drift in—unbidden—from the ether, passing through my head like wayward radio waves, looking for a receiver, searching for life, for pages to call home. This is how it works for so many of us writers. These are story ideas that find no basis in anything we’ve experienced, seen, overheard, nor recall from days past. These are gifts from some other realm. I’ve written a few short stories based on these gifts.
Now, I understand that despite these many sources of inspiration, writer’s block may still find its way across your path. In those situations, there are plenty of options. If you’re working on a story when you find yourself stuck, just put that story away, out of sight, for a determined period of time. I would suggest two weeks. For two weeks, just leave it alone, don’t look at it, don’t think about it. In fact, use those two weeks to begin another story. Immerse yourself in this new work. Then, once the two weeks are up, go back to the original piece with fresh eyes and a clear head. If you still find yourself stuck, maybe that’s one of those stories that isn’t meant to be. Don’t be married to it. Be prepared to kick it to the curb—if need be.
By nature, writers are creative personalities. And the core root of creativity is inspiration. These are the two main ingredients that make up the storyteller. This goes for all writers, whether you write novels, short stories, poems, song lyrics, news articles, or blog posts. Creativity needs inspiration. Without it, there is no story—at least not an entertaining one.
So, keep your mind attuned to the environment around you. Inspiration comes at us in so many shapes and forms and shades. It is delivered to us via multiple messengers. Keeping our eyes open and our minds ready to grasp hold is the real trick. If you’re a writer, that block shouldn’t be in your way. Go around it, over it, or through it—just don’t let it deny you the finish line of your story.