As writers, I’m sure we’ve all been there. The blank screen stares us down or we can’t even bring ourselves to take time for our writing because we’re overwhelmed with the events happening in our lives.
I’m in the process of developing an outline for my next work but the first few weeks of January haven’t cooperated with me. That idea of writers secluded in a rustic cabin (or even a quiet office) for hours on end, sipping coffee, tapping away at their trusty laptop as the ideas spring forth has rarely intersected with my life. But never has it felt more distant than the past few weeks. Each time I’ve tried to brainstorm, my mind instead wanders to the 526 obstacles and appointments and other things standing between me and a fully-formed idea.
So I decided to make it work for me. And since it’s an idea nobody has thrown at me before in a class or book, I thought it might be worth sharing with you as well.
I listed out all of the activities and experiences I’ve had lately that have been eating my time and keeping me from writing. All of those things that keep me up at night, that I email friends about, that have presented as patterns. A sample of my list (it’s been an interesting couple of weeks here):
- volunteering for cemetery cleanup
- someone broke into our garage
- many vocal views about race/religion on social media
- new vet finding that previous vet didn’t disclose cat’s kidney disease 5 months ago
What this exercise involves is trying to use these bits in your story. You may not use all of them. They may not be the focus. But they may be something that can add depth to a secondary character or background to your main character’s back story. Maybe twisting a combination of these events can create an entire plot for a story.
What this exercise isn’t about is writing therapeutically about what happened to get it out of your mind and clear that space for something else.
We all write what we know, so this is an exercise in taking what you know right now and working with it.
For example, maybe I can take those events and create the character of a young woman who rides her bike each day to her internship at the cemetery, where she wants to be an archivist. She’s a very solitary person, but she’s forced to live with roommates, and she dislikes the one in particular because of the comments she constantly makes about other races and religions. Her bike is stolen from the garage one night, and just when she thinks it can’t get any worse, she finds out that her cat is very sick. But also, maybe the veterinarian has a lead on her missing bike. Or, let’s face it — maybe he’s hot. If that’s your kind of story. It’s not really what I write. In my kind of story, he probably stole her bike, and now he’s plotting with the nasty roommate to poison her cat while she’s away at work scrubbing moss off graves.
I’m not saying it’s a winning idea, but at least it was an idea. It got the creative juices flowing. And I could actually work with bits of it (up through the roommate).
All of life is experiences we can use for our writing. Next time you’re faced with writer’s block because your brain is overwhelmed with so much life, try this little exercise. Write down and play around with some of those blocking experiences. At some point, they may come in handy!
Note: I realize that “#1” in the title implies there will be a “#2” at some point. That’s very likely. But it’s not planned for any time soon. I like leaving my options open.