Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Okay, so this post was inspired by Megha, a regular commentor who left a comment on Monday's trail which betrayed that she was feeling just a liiitle stressed. Why? Because she did not feel inspired. And not in the 'Oh, I have to wait for my Muse to pop in the window with scones and tea before I can write' way (in which case, we would be applying a butt-kicking) but in a freaked-out 'I have no ideas and I don't feel creative what's wrong with me arrrgh!' kinda way.

This provokes our deep sympathy, my beloveds. For writers, who usually have story ideas hitting them all day and every day until they can hardly keep up with them, to find yourself suddenly drying up and realising that you don't have anything to write about - and even worse, that you have no idea what you WANT to write about - is...well, frankly it is terrifying.

I've been there, guys. Back when I first decided I wanted to write YA fantasy I got so excited that I went through (and discarded) about six million ideas that I wanted to write - and suddenly THERE WERE NO MORE. It's like looking straight into a black, bottomless abyss and realising there's nothing there at all. Nothing to catch you, nothing to catch onto. You call down into it and there isn't even an echo. It's just empty. If you have nothing to write about, no ideas, no spark of inspiration...are you even a writer anymore? Cue self of sense collapsing, tearing out of hair and curling up into a tiny, whimpering ball.

This happens to all creative people in all fields sooner or later, I reckon. I think it's a product, sometimes, of trying too hard. It becomes so important to have a project on the go all the time that we rip through dozens of ideas, moving too quickly, discarding them because none of them were really ready and they feel immature and thin. Your brain suddenly gets sick of it and applies the brake. The subconscious Little Voice (which I talked about here) shuts up. And it turns out that it's pretty lonely in your head all alone without it.

The first thing to remember when this happens is - DON'T PANIC. No, okay, that's impossible. You're going to panic. But don't let the panic take over because I promise, take my oath, pinkie-swear, that this is not forever. The ideas are going to come back. You can't stop them coming back even if you want to. Your brain can only shut them out for so long. So what you need to do now is...

Take a deep breath.

Count to eight.

Now let it out.

And another.

Count to eight again. Breathe out.

One more. Deeeeep breath.

Count to eight. Let it out.

Right. Now that we're feeling a bit calmer, we need to take a bit of a leap.

Forget about ideas. Forget about books. Forget about writing stories. I know - Le Gasp, right? But I'm serious. Take a step back from being a writer for a little while, and you will be taking a step back from the crazy. I know it's easy to define yourself completely by your identity as a writer, but you're a person too, and you aren't going to die if you give your writing hand a rest for a bit.

Now, give yourself permission to do something else. Read a new book, or re-read an old favourite that you've been meaning to get to for a while. Sketch or paint. Take a few slow, wandering walks. Go shopping. Visit a museum or go on a trip with family or friends. Watch a great film or an awful, cheesy one that makes you snort with laughter. Listen to your favourite music - and spend an afternoon on YouTube or iTunes listening to new songs and finding new favourites. Do any or all of the things that you somehow never quite find the time to do normally because you're wanting to write. Do your homework, kids (education is a priceless thing)!

If you get any little flickers of ideas while you're watching that cheesy movie or looking at the wind moving through the trees, or hanging out with your friends? Very calmly pull out your notebook and make a note and leave it. Don't pounce on the idea and kill it before it's ready. On the other hand, if you feel a sudden, burning urge to write a song or a poem - go nuts! Spend all day doing that if you want, and have fun. I used to write about three poems a day when I was a teen, and I loved it (and I was pretty good at it too).

I guarantee that under this gentle, non-pressurised treatment in which you shower your brain with lots of new/rich images, and fun, and emotional stimuli and not freaking-the-heck-out, your imagination will bloom once again. That doesn't mean that the moment it does you should go back to what you were doing before, mind you. This is a warning from your brain. Chill. Stop focusing so much on results and enjoy the journey a little more. Let your ideas mature. Play around with new styles. I know I've talked about Neverending Stories, but it honestly doesn't matter if you mess with sixteen different stories at once and five of them are paranormal romance and six are high fantasy and two are contemporary and one is a murder mystery and the other four are dystopian - so long as you're having fun.

Eventually, an idea will come along that you love and adore and want to kiss and hug and make out with. Well, all right, maybe that's just me - but what I'm trying to say is that eventually The One True Idea will come along, and you'll know because you'll stop messing around and find yourself wanting to work only on that one story. Just like True Love, really. But this can't happen if you're stressing out, worrying, and making yourself miserable.

Writing is supposed to be fun, guys. Yes, it's hard work at times, and requires patience, perseverence, craftsmanship and dedication. But if it's not FUN, at the end of the day, you might as well go and become an accountant. Right?

I leave you with three things which I personally find very inspiring, in different ways.

Spooky Mysterious Castle by the Sea

Go forth, my lovelies...and breathe.


Kristina said...

I love the video! It has a very magical quality, it makes me want to do something creative or go to old world dance and wear a big beautiful ball gown.

Zoë Marriott said...

Ha ha - you see? Already inspiring!

Megz said...

Zoe, I love you. (I start so many comments like that!)

First of all, thank you so much for posting this. I can't believe you posted that just because of me. Thank you thank you thank you.

And that was totally helpful! I feel a lot more calm now, because, like you said, I remember I AM A PERSON.

Don't pounce on the idea and kill it before it's ready.

Thank you so much.

REALLY HELPFUL!!! Thanks. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Zoë Marriott said...

And I appreciate the love, definitely! You are very welcome, Megha. Now go read a good book or something and chill out, OK? Writers are people too :)

Isabel said...

This is just the post I needed right now. THANK YOU.

I know that a couple of days ago I was super excited because I was at a big climax in my story and I was going to move on into the next phase of my WIP... But as I was writing I came to the horrible realization that I just. hadn't. planned. enough. Yes, I have/had an idea where this story was GOING -- but the thing is that beforehand my story was planned out very carefully -- up until That Big Event happened. I always try to tell myself that when I think of an idea, first, before I jump into it just because it SOUNDS good, I have to remind myself whether I can actually write about it. I let myself trip up this time. I made a mistake. Now -- believe it or not -- I'm going to have to go through a lot of major planning. Sounds okay, doesn't it? I mean, you wouldn't think that just because I had to do some extra planning I've been coming close to tears over the past couple of days... but I feel completely void of ideas and inspiration. I keep on knocking them aside because I think they might be too cliche... I know this is probably a good thing, but I am VERY good at spotting when something is cliche and I really don't cut myself a lot of slack on that point.

But now that I've read this post, I know that I just. need. to. RELAXXX. So I think I'm going to take a break -- maybe for a couple of days, maybe even a week -- and just let the ideas come when they want to. And if something randomly comes to me at any point -- even today -- I'll write it down, but I won't dive into it without thinking first. I've made that mistake before.

I love my story. I really do. I've never loved anything that I've ever written before as much as this story. Which is why I'm going to keep going. I will not quit until I FINISH this story. Because I know that -- somewhere, somehow, sometime -- there is going to be an amazing idea that will fix EVERYTHING and let me to complete this novel and make it as great as it should be. This post has been so helpful, and it is SO NEEDED. Thank you, Zoe!!! :)

Zoë Marriott said...

It sounds like you've got exactly the right attitude, Isabel. Good luck, and you're very welcome.

Isabel said...

Zoe: I certainly hope so! It's so strange to finally be taking a break from writing... it's quite relaxing, and for some reason I don't feel the least bit guilty about it. :) But hopefully some inspiration will come soon enough...

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