My first blog post in almost a year was, somewhat ironically, me writing about the problems about writing. I tried to take my writers block and transform it into something creative, and while it might have been a ramble, it felt excellent. It also got me thinking, and realising it is something I have been doing for a very long time, I just haven’t been sharing it before.
Inspiration can be found, quite literally, everywhere and anywhere. In the right light, your best friends start to look a little bit like your protagonist’s best friends, your annoying boss starts to give advice to your big bad on how to be a jerk-off, and your hometown begins to bleed into your ancient, fantasy kingdom.
Ideas and inspiration have never come to me with any sense of difficulty, I’ve always been trying to escape and turn my boring, mundane life into something vaguely interesting internally. However, I have always struggled to turn these ideas into anything tangible. A mixture of writers block, ambition above talent and too many ideas to focus has lead to not a whole lot of a backlog for someone so interested in the craft. I think of ideas, quickly become obsessed with them, and then think about them too much, ’til the whole project is wide and massive, and frankly too much. Then I immediately drop it and think of something else cool, and if I am lucky I will have remembered to have written down my idea first for later refinement.
That is of course, a personal struggle, one that I’m sure alot of you could relate too with different types of projects and art, but not everyone. Many people who struggle with writer’s block struggle with inspiration, or finding their own, or even their characters voice. All of these problems, appear to be able to be solved simply by plowing through, just writing as much as possible, and dedicating yourself to improving each time. Any seasoned writer giving you advice will simply say “just write” as an answer to most problems beginning writers seem to face. I attribute my own problems with being unable to write to my own problems with mental health, and as I strive further into finding help, I begin to use my writing as a benefit to that now, not a goal blocked by it. Of course, although I have not been writing, I have not been idle.
One thing I try to often tell myself, even if only to feel better about myself, is that I have not been wasting my time, despite writing actual stories down. I have been keeping my eyes open to everything, analysing every detail of every thing I seem to experience. It’s an obsession, and it’s opened me to a different way of enjoying everyday things; books, films, video games, long walks, new cities and even conversations. I now see them as parts of a puzzle, separate components that make different stories, not always fictional, sometimes just our own. (okay maybe not all of the time, that would be a bit creepy).
Here are a few examples of how I find inspiration, and keep my brain working, even with writer’s block.
Ideas from other media
The most obvious choice, in our current time, with a generation of children growing up on, frankly, a ridiculous about of media, only a few clicks away, instant access. We’re spoilt, if anything. Films from the past hundred years, a constant stream of TV and video games. To many in the past, this has all seemed like a hindrance to society. People choosing to stay inside, rather than “live your lives”. Of course that’s bullshit. It’s all about how you approach it.
A couple of years ago, I began itemising my media. Making lists of films, TV and games I wanted to experience. Asides from being incredibly anally retentive, I also found I just had too much to really experience in a life time. Hell, I’m still working through the same lists as I was in 2017, but as soon as I tick one off, I discover something else I never heard of before, and add it to the list as replacement. The trick here is to stop treating it as a checklist, as tempting as the feeling of accomplishment for completion is, it’s a guideline.
I might not ever finish my list, but I have experience some truly incredible films I might not ever have before, simply by picking one at random and going with it. When I have an urge to play a video game, I don’t have to sift through my colossal Steam library (If I’m ever bankrupt, I will blame Steam sales and Humble Bundles, not my lack of control) I can just see what’s on the list and what seems appealing.
With organisation, comes a total ability to absorb different media, different types of art. Art created to elicit an emotion by a person or group, just like what we are trying to make. No-one likes copy-cats or imitations, let’s get that straight. When I struggle with writers block, unable to bring myself to the keyboard, however, I watch a film, a drama series or play a game. Not to escape, but to experience something the creators wanted me to. I sit, I watch or play, and I analyse.
I try to take one piece of writing, story, characterisation, action scene or theme, that I really enjoyed in the feature I just witnessed, and I think to myself; “If I wrote this, how would I make it better?”
A simple question, but an important one. I focus on the positives, and try to improve them, take something great, and make it amazing. At least to me. Maybe it’s a character I like, or their relationship with someone else, or how a tense scene is built up, and what the pay-off was like. Distancing the details between the original is imperative, again, we don’t want any copycats. It’s about taking something abstract and seeing how it fits within your own worlds and projects.
The same can be said with something, bad, mediocre, or just underwhelming. Something you were maybe excited about, and felt deflated with. A great film can have a bad ending, and end with us describing it as “meh”. If that happens, ask yourself how you could change it, and would the film benefit from something different?
90% of the time, if you can tell that someone has inserted them-self into a novel, it’s a power fantasy.
“Hi, I’m Martin, I was a used-car salesman, then I was bitten by a radioactive meteor, now I’m a successful millionaire/vampire/werewolf with a super-hot wife and a gigantic penis, and I’m on my way to save the president from imminent death by ninja.”
I’ve read alot of bad novels where you could tell the plot was conceived by someone bored at work and imagining their perfect lives, it’s not always as unsubtle as the sentence above, but sometimes it might as well be. If the main character comes across as super cool, has adoring friends, and easily overcomes any obstacle placed in their way by the author, yeah, it’s probably based on them.
It doesn’t always have to be this way though, Stephen King is infamous for his inserts, but they’re not always indulgent. Misery, sure, is the product of a fantastical, deep fear, but ti makes for a compelling, and tense, read, because it isn’t a positive fantasy. It’s scary, naturalistic. His protagonist is bound, injured, and very afraid, he overcomes the obstacle, but at a great cost. It’s not a power fantasy, it’s humanising a dark fear.
It’s not just fantasies that we can use though. Imagination is a wonderful thing, but our lives are interesting too. You might think your routine of commuting to work, interacting with the same people, and getting drunk on the weekends is a bit mundane, and as a whole, week after week, of course it is. Component by component, however, it’s all part of an intricate tapestry we leave behind.
I’m notoriously unlucky, from slipping and falling in front of a huge crowd of people at tourist attractions, to being shit on by birds, to leaving my coat (with my passport inside) in an airport toilet and having to travel 30 miles back to retrieve it. I might hate these moments, but would my life be interesting without them?
Probably best not to think about, but these are anecdotes I can translate into characters. My time travelling has been filled with some incredible moments. Incredible, as in sometimes it feels like I’m part of a (fairly boring, mind) sitcom, to the point where I even started writing a graphic novel based on my time in America working in a summer camp, because the things that happened-bad and then good, and then bad and then great- all felt so perfect for a story.
People you meet
Similar to your own personal stories, taking another’s can be equally as rewarding. I’ve come to realise that working with people gives you great insight to this. I’ve often said I could write a book about the regulars of the first pub I ever worked in. There were so many colourful, unique personalities and tragic stories that lead them to sitting at that bar, and it all coalesced beautifully.
I’ve met other writers who have based characters on people they used to know, but in abstract ways. Taking an archetype they represented, such as spoilt, rude roommate or idiotic coworker, rather than anything too specific that would identify them. Sometimes it can be as simple as listening to the way someone talks, and how they interact with the other world, which can lend your characters layered, and ultimately very human, touches.
A great famous example of this, is JK Rowling meeting a gigantic hairy biker in a country pub, who only talked about his cabbages, and became the basis for Hagrid. After Stephen King’s near fatal accident, he wrote the driver, Bryan Smith, into the final book of the Dark Tower series, as a bumbling, reckless fool, with the same name and everything. There are great examples everywhere.
The big wide world
Adventures can lead to alot of rewarding inspiration. My first taste for travelling came when I went to Munich with my dad, and we toured the Dachau concentration camp, and the Neuschwanstein Castle, deep within the Bavarian Alps, and inspiration for the Disney castle, and these sights, vastly contrasted with each other, got the wheels in my head spinning.
Seeing architecture built by different cultures in different corners of the world can help build locations in your head. Seeing an interesting building, maybe one that seems out of place in the real world, can open your imagination to the possibilities of what lies inside, and how it would differ if it was in your world.
Touring new countries, or even new places in your own homeland, can open your eyes to new ways of life too. Meeting new people with different occupations than your friends, or who are just used to living in different situations is completely eye opening. You learn new stories, cultures, even mannerisms and perspectives.
Someone better than you
Finally, there is nothing quite as effective to free yourself of writer’s block, like hearing about someone you know succeed, when you’re still trying. If I need motivation, I will read about writing habits and beginnings of writers that I respect and aspire to be like, and the realisation that they were probably sitting in the same situation like me, once upon a time.
My friends who write, often end up succeeding much more frequently than I, and I try not to be frustrated by that. Not with them anyway, but I try not to be frustrated by own inability. Instead, I try to focus on the positives; that at least they are making strides into their own dreams, or just creating, and that I can be inspired by their drive and passion.
There we go. Writing about writer’s block again. It works, though. I will continue to write about writing, so if you made it this far, maybe think about checking again in a few days, when hopefully I will get to explore different aspects of turning our lives into ideas.