If you’re anything like me and a lot of our clients, your ideas bounce through your head at a breakneck pace. “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” you often ask. Yesterday, I got really excited by an idea for a dystopian thriller, but I can’t start it until I finish my psychological thriller and a non-fiction book I’m going to write with my sister. And a book on the editing process. And that high fantasy I’ve always wanted to write. In short, that dystopia will probably never happen.
Do you relate?
But while we may not lack story ideas, sometimes we still get debilitated by writer’s block during the writing process. We know what the story is about. We know where we want it to go. But we can’t quite get that scene right, and we don’t know how to move the story forward.
When I wrote “Not One For Platitudes,” which was published in Call of the Warrior earlier this year, I found myself staring at the screen with writer’s block for weeks. I came up with the concept the day Read Write Muse announced their call for submissions, but on the last day to submit, I found myself panicked, staring at a Word document that only had a couple paragraphs in it. Then, I started reflecting on the theme of the anthology and scenes from my childhood. What had I really experienced that fit the theme? And all the pieces clicked together. Those who have read it know that “Not One For Platitudes” is about a cancer patient, and serious illness like that is totally outside my experience. I’ve never spent a night in a hospital, much less battled a serious disease. But the theme of the anthology was “warrior,” and something about that word resonated with a memory.
I was in third grade at my little Christian school when my beloved teacher Mrs. Kimura picked Ephesians 6:10-18 as our class verse. That passage of the Bible talks about the Christian as a warrior and describes how the armor the Christian puts on differs from the armor a soldier would put on. She organized a lot of the class around that theme, and for one of our activities, we put together “The Warrior Book” that is featured in my story. By a stroke of good luck, I’d ended up with the book and still had it, so I was able to go back and consult it to mine rich details out of it for the story. By grounding my story in a concrete project that I took part in years earlier, I broke through my writer’s block and submitted a complete story at about twenty minutes to midnight. Procrastinators unite tomorrow!
So how can you apply this to your story? When you’re stuck, think of conversations you’ve had, people you’ve seen on the street, concerts you sang in at school, or any specific memory you can grasp at. Don’t try to force all your stories to come directly out of your experience, but look for little inspirations in your memory that can lend true details to a novel. What if your character experienced something similar? How would you describe it? What would happen? By introducing something you’ve actually experienced, you can lend a note of authenticity to the prose even if your concept is fantastic.
And that is always a good thing.