By Paulo Campos
Your novel’s next scene or sentence seems blocked behind a blinking cursor.
The Internet’s a click or ALT+TAB away. Chores (unappealing when you sat down to work) now really need to be done. Some Netflix movies want to be watched. Dozens of magazines wait to be perused.
When you feel uninspired, countless alternatives may feel better uses of your time. They often seem like opportunities for inspiration. An article in one of your magazines or a scene in a movie or a thought while you’re scrubbing the sink or a YouTube clip might seem like the ticket to get you back to work.
But more often than not they’ll lead you away from your writing.
Before leaving your work to look elsewhere for inspiration, try looking through your own ideas.
No matter how frustrated I may be with a story, I’ve often found inspiration in my own untapped ideas from journals and scrapbooks. Ideas are all over the place waiting to be put to use if I take the time to find them.
Here are five sources I’ve found helpful to get me back to work:
1) Current Journals
If you regularly keep a journal, read through what you’ve been writing about. Journals are full of musings and anecdotes that were interesting enough to write down in the first place. What do they seem like days or weeks later?
Your current writing represents what’s been on your mind. A journal entry might trigger an association you wrote about, but haven’t connected to your Work in Progress.
Note: this works extremely well if you keep Morning Pages (as Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way advocates) because you’ll have tons of work to review.
2) Old Journals
These mines of humiliation may make you cringe, but can be very helpful. Think about the differences between who you were years ago and who you are now. What didn’t occur to you back then? Or what did, but wouldn’t now?
Try applying the contrasts to your work. Ask yourself:
- What would happen if I introduced a character like young me to the story?
- What would young me think about the scene I’m writing?
- What would I need to explain to him?
3) Current Notes
A demanding, but effective, habit is to write down everything you think all week. Whip our that notepad and write down anything that seems like an idea as soon as it occurs to you.
Copy overheard conversations. Did your friend tell you an interesting story? Write it down.
Notes are not nearly as fleshed out as what you have in your journal. Now that you’re procrastinating, go back and see what little things caught your passing interest. Can you flesh them out in your work?
4) Blog Posts
Keep track of what you read about writing online. Print exceptional blog posts and keep them in a binder or scrapbook close to your workspace. You might find idea starters in posts that offer advice or list prompts that have worked for you in the past.
Do you have your own blog? Look though your own posts. How might they help?
5) Memorable Passages
Virginia Woolf kept detailed notes on what she thought about books she read. She copied passages she admired or found compelling and often left specific comments so she wouldn’t forget why she had copied them.
Whenever you’re reading highlight passages that strike you. Copy them into a journal specifically for this purpose. Now that you’re stuck, flip through them. Obviously, don’t plagiarize.
Look for an interesting word or description. Other authors’ descriptions or dialogue may connect with yours and nudge your work beyond that pesky flashing cursor.
Back to Work!
These are a few examples of how keeping track of your thoughts and interests can inspire you to get back to work. Digging through five or more is a lot of work.
Find the one or two that work for you as a go-to resource. Just a few mintues of paging through what was on your mind at some point can get you back on track.
About the Author: Paulo Campos wrote his first novel in high school but didn’t return to fiction until well into graduate school. He’s since written three novels and a collection of short fiction. One of the novels and the collection seem good enough to shop for publication and are being revised. He was a recipient of Glimmer Train‘s “Best Start” competition in November 2009. His first published piece of short fiction will appear in the June 2010 issue of THEMA.
He lives in New York with his wife and two suspect cats.
The journal image above is courtesy of el clinto.