Writer’s block. It’s a phrase we all dread, especially if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this month. Plenty of writers have dispensed their wisdom about how to deal with it, but I’d like to share the tips that have worked for me personally. I hope you find them as useful as I have!
My biggest piece of advice is to keep a journal. A journal can be anything from a spiral notebook to computer files. Mine is a bound, lined journal whose fake leather cover I customized with a collage. Journaling gives you a safe place to practice writing and ensures that you keep at it. Aside from your journal, make use of the phone on your camera (or, if you’re like me, carry around a point-and-shoot). If something catches your attention and you don’t have time to write it down, snap a photo. I keep a folder in my Dropbox account called “Inspiration,” and it’s full of pictures of things I find visually striking. This can be another kind of journal.
“Mediocre writers borrow. Great writers steal.” So said T.S. Eliot, though he didn’t mean it literally (I hope!). How can you make this advice work for you? Joanna Penn at the Creative Penn suggests, “Read other people’s works, or look at other people’s art work…. Write the same idea in your own words and you can bet it will be a different story or a new angle on it.… If you are reading something and find a new word, or a description or phrase, or a poetry line, then write it down. Maybe you can re-use the word in a different context, or it helps you describe something in a better way.” I have taken Joanna’s advice to heart many times, and my writing has consistently improved because of it. I’ve also studied various creative media for inspiration, including fairy tales and mythology, video games, documentaries and non-fiction books, TV, and movies.
Song lyrics, and even song titles, can provide inspiration as well. Keep a list of intriguing song titles and lyrics in your journal. I have often turned to songs for story titles. Even instrumental music, or music sung in a language you don’t understand, can generate ideas, particularly if you’re writing fantasy or horror. I write much of my work to a playlist made up of survival horror and fantasy RPG video game soundtracks. Our brains are hardwired to have very strong emotional responses to music. Let it speak to you.
If you’re stuck on a project, turn to your journal or work on something else. Ideas will strike when you least expect it. Ultimately, a piece may not work, but you can almost certainly salvage something from it—even if it’s just a sentence. You can rework the story or build an entirely new one. Don’t throw away (or delete) anything. And most importantly, don’t give up!
Mara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts herself to quell the pain, she thought the worst was behind her. But her boyfriend's sudden death, and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State, sends her into a spiral of madness, landing her in a psychiatric ward. Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth about her older sister's death and the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit.
Jennifer Loring’s short fiction has been published in numerous magazines, webzines, and anthologies, and in 2013 she won Crystal Lake Publishing’s first Tales from the Lake horror competition. DarkFuse published her novella Conduits in September 2014 to critical acclaim. Jenn is a member of the International Thriller Writers and the Horror Writers Association and holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She lives in Philadelphia, PA, with her husband and a turtle named—what else?—Ninja.