Out of ideas?
I have a trick I use often when I find myself staring at a blank page, or when I’m in the middle of a long writing project and run out of ideas.
I have never seen it on any list of writing tips or tricks:
Question your certainties.
This trick can be used in two ways.
- In a practical sense, relating directly to your current writing project.
- In broader terms to free your creative flow when you’re feeling blocked our mentally empty.
Here’s how it works:
1. In the practical sense, try questioning your certainties the next time you’re experiencing writer’s block.
What are you certain of?
If you’re writing fiction, maybe it’s a theme.
For example, let’s say your current novel is a travel adventure about a woman quitting her job, ending her long-term relationship, and hitchhiking across Asia.
You intend the story to include a message something along the lines of how travel is an inner journey of self-discovery.
Eat, Pray, Love-type stuff, you know.
You’re certain that’s what you want to write, and the novel is going well.
Until it’s not.
Fifty-pages in, your main character has been through every adventure you can imagine, and she’s learned some lessons, but you have no idea how she’s changed or grown, or if she ever will, and it seems too soon, fifty pages in, to wrap it up and have her head home.
So, you’re stuck.
Question the certainty of your theme.
Try writing a scene that proves the exact opposite of that theme you’re certain you want to write about.
Does travel always have to be about personal growth? Maybe it’s the realization of that old adage: Wherever you go, there you are.
In our example, you might try writing a scene at your main character’s next destination where she has the absolute worst experience of her life, is overwhelmed with regret, and wishes with all her soul that she had never had so stupid an idea as to travel halfway around the world to encounter the same horrible people she tried to escape from back home.
Or something like that.
The scene may work in the narrative, or it may not, but at the very least, you have a new scene to play with and you’re no longer staring at that blank page.
2. In a broader sense, when you’re stuck, you can question your certainties in your writing practice and routines.
To what beliefs or writing myths are you clinging?
Do you hear the inner critic saying:
I have to write 1000 words today.
If I’m not writing, I’m a failure.
I have to write all day, every day if I expect to make it as a writer.
Are you certain? Because those seem like beliefs that could actually limit your creativity.
Instead, could you maybe trust your own creative rhythms? Maybe today you don’t need to write 1000 words.
Maybe today you need a break.
Strong certainties and intentions can serve you well as you build your writing career, but…
They can just as easily hold you back by limiting your options and closing your mind to new perspectives.
Before you force a theme that may not be working into your novel or rely on willpower to add lifeless word count to your manuscript, take a moment to question those certainties.
It’s a valuable mental exercise, sort of like playing devil’s advocate to your own thoughts, to open your mind and consider new creative options.