Have you ever cleared time to start a new book or creative writing project, only to waste every second staring at a blank page? I have a feeling it’s happened to everyone (even famous authors). So here are some tips to overcome Blank Page Syndrome.
1. Step away from the computer! Take a walk, work in a garden, exercise, go for a ride…whatever relaxes you and allows your mind to wander. I’ve also had many ideas when I’m half asleep or while showering (one of these days I’ll figure out how to jot them down in there).
2. Try to come up with ideas throughout the year. The more often you do this, the more you train your mind to look for ideas everywhere. Always keep ideas on file, so when you’re ready to write you can sort through your treasures and see if any of them can work, or maybe spark an idea that you can use.
3. Set a timer for ten minutes or longer and don’t allow any interruptions (yes, that includes checking e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter). Just go, go, go…let the ideas flow. And if one grabs you, brainstorm it in more detail. Don’t stop until the timer goes off, even if what you’re writing feels silly.
4. Remember times when you were scared, surprised, excited, jealous, nervous, hurt, or sad. Maybe moments like those will spark an idea! If there are memories you’d like to tap into, sit someplace comfortable and close your eyes. Breathe slowly and steadily and imagine you’re outside a building or room where the memory takes place. Watch yourself open a door and walk inside. Try to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells. Afterward, quickly write down or record the details before they fade.
5. Give yourself permission to jot down awful ideas. No, I don’t want you to waste your time on a manuscript or creative writing project that isn’t solid enough…but you never know what will happen once you start brainstorming an idea. I like to keep a list of great ideas in a main file, and then a random thought file filled with anything I might be able to use like a title, cool phrase, character traits, or maybe even a photo of someone who looks like he or she would make an interesting character. Sometimes, those thoughts are fleeting and remain in that file…but I’m surprised how many of them sprout wings and become fully developed ideas!
6. If you come up with an idea that might work, but you need a little extra motivation to plunge into it, you can challenge friends to a Word War. Decide on a set amount of time, then write like crazy and compare word counts at the end. It will probably need a lot of editing—but it’s easier to mold something into shape than stare at a blank page.
7. Check out this great brainstorming post from Mixed-Up author Beverly Patt.
Ideas often take time to simmer. They come from observing and asking ‘what if’ throughout the day. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open, and you’ll soon discover that ideas are everywhere (especially when you don’t feel pressured to come up with one immediately).
Here are a few ways I’ve come up with ideas that have sparked my middle-grade novels:
- I read an article about topics needed for children, and one was coping with the death of a sibling. My brother died when I was twenty-six, and I immediately knew I had to explore this idea in my first middle-grade novel.
- I’ve mined memories from when I was younger, such as sleep-away camp, issues with bullies, and things that I wanted or feared.
- I was reading Rebel Angels by flickering candlelight during a hurricane and came up with the idea for my first middle-grade fantasy.
- The idea for one humorous middle-grade novel came to me when I was shopping with my daughter, and she freaked out when she thought someone might see her in the bra aisle. It’s amazing how that one moment sparked an entire novel…which includes a bra-tastrophe scene that I absolutely love.
- Animals constantly inspire me, too. I love including quirky ones like feisty ferrets, a scaredy dog, and a ballerina guinea pig.
How do you come up with ideas for your books or creative writing projects?
Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and is constantly inspired by her eleven and thirteen year-old daughters, adventurous sock and underwear munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets. Visit her blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.