How would ______ do this? Three more questions to ask yourself when experiencing a creative block. . .

I knew I had an idea . . . I knew it was great, but where did it go? The blank screen had no answer for me, and only the sound of my cat meowing filled the air. What happened to that shiny object I was chasing? Luckily, I had an answer.

This is the second post in a series on creative blocks. You can read the first post here.

2

Ideas are abundant, which is why I take the time to create notes for new ideas that I have.

That is what I would say to you if I was diligent.

The truth is. . . I run with my ideas, big and small, and sometimes, they get lost.

Some writers call this being a pantser from the phrase “flying by the seat of your pants.” I’m guilty of being a pantser; however, there are times when I really do take the time to develop my ideas, like my current project A Thousand Watchful Eyes.

Today was not one of those times. Part of today was a “shiny object” day, where I chased new ideas like a small, eager animal collecting whatever catches its eye.

It’s tragic. I am attracted to new ideas like cats to fuzzy socks. Sometimes I can’t stop.

While this process is almost always exciting, there is always the danger of losing out on an idea that would be a worthwhile investment.  Luckily, today’s shiny-object fiasco came after a morning of creating fiction.

A Full Morning of Fiction

For those of you new to Paper Palaces, I am working on a fantasy saga. The finished work will span twelve novels (a prequel series and main series). Every day, I try to work on the project, but I also have to dedicate my time towards other tasks. Managing this time is often difficult, as everything seems important. Last week, I wrote about a new writing challenge to push myself towards dedicating a large amount of my time towards writing my books. So far, it is working.

Still, I want to write short stories, and I want to start new books. Yesterday, I wanted to a create handful of detailed blog posts and useful how-to articles, and today, I just needed to write fiction. The urge to create more writing ensues, but wanting to write more is not enough.

I fought the urge to chase shiny objects today by focusing on one project: my fiction.

Here’s what happened:

  • I revised chapters for three hours.
  • I made detailed notes about new chapters.
  • I redrafted two old chapters and wrote one new chapter.
  • My chapters look better.
  • I no longer feel stressed writing new posts and articles.
  • I now have time to pursue my “shiny object” ideas, if only I could remember them.

In essence, there is no issue, but I want to keep writing, and my ideas have run dry.

What is a person to do?

What I have done to fight this type of creative block

Keep a list!

Really, keep a list of the ideas that you want to develop. This list could evolve into a document, a database, a binder. . . Honestly, it can be as big or as small as you need.

There’s an interesting technique that some artists use, where they create a portfolio of inspirational images to motivate them through the creative block. In this case, your list would keep your fledgling ideas safe until it was time for them to take wing.

But what if you forgot to add the idea to the list?

Well, honestly there’s not much you can do. But I suggest asking the following questions.

Here are three questions you should ask yourself when your ideas are scattered or missing . . .

  1. What inspired me today?

  2. Are there any other ideas that I have yet to develop?

  3. How would _____ do this? 

These open-ended questions will help you to open up the creative part of your mind, and I’m not just talking about writers. This will help with any project. These questions help me when my brain feel so overwhelmed, or so blank, that it needs a starting point.

Each question focuses on different solutions for creative block. Number one focuses on building specificity, number two focuses on working through former ideas, and number three focuses on developing organization and style.

When all is said and done, I enjoy the writing process, but that does not mean I don’t get stuck. In fact, it’s my desire to make write a large body of work that sometimes keeps me away from the screen.

In order to focus, in order to fight the blank page, we must find what works, and that looks different every day.  Here is how I approach each question:

1

Question # 1: What inspired me today?

This may be the easiest question to answer. You simply have to remember what you have done today. If you can’t think of something inspiring, try thinking of something that makes you curious.

Were their people you interacted with that sparked your curiosity today? Was there a moment that stood out to you as interesting? How could you translate part of your personal experience today to your craft?

Finding inspiration is sometimes as simple as sitting down and writing stream of consciousness for ten minutes and picking an idea that appears. I call this method a “brain spill.” Caution – don’t publish your stream of consciousness, or “brain spill.”

Your goal is to get to a place of specificity, not to produce polished writing. This is great if you don’t have any ideas on hand because there is always something to use from your brainstorming session. There is always something that you can use from your day if you spend enough time thinking about your experience from different angles.

Question # 2: Are there any other ideas that you have to develop?

For non-fiction, I have a document that is an entire list of questions sorted by topic. Someday, I will answer all of those questions. Each question is open-ended.

I have another document that is a list of story titles, character names, and one-liners. I used to keep these in a handwritten journal, but lately, I like to keep everything digital. These are helpful for writing fiction.

I sporadically collect pictures and articles from the web to help inspire me. Pinterest is a pretty great tool for that, but it’s also an easy way to procrastinate.

Keeping your ideas handy for later will help you build a bank of ideas to develop. These seeds of ideas are not ready on their own, but with enough care and the right conditions, they can grow into better ideas, stories, projects, etc . . .

Question # 3: How would _____ do this? 

This is a great one if you have a personal hero in your field. Sometimes I think to myself: How would J.K. Rowling do this? How would George R.R. Martin do this? Or, more specifically, how would Rick Riordan describe this character? How would Kelly Barnhill explain this to a child? How would my favorite blogger structure this post?

You can get as specific as you want, or stay general. The point of this exercise to think outside of yourself. This gives you a break from your own organization and style, providing a space for you to create something new.

Take-Away

If I remember anything from this today, it is to keep my idea bank full while also dedicating appropriate time to my projects and to never give up, no matter what complications arise.


I hope these questions help you with your creative projects.

-Curtis

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