This week I have been listening to an excellent podcast, The Writer’s Edge, and the latest episodes dealt with editing & revising your novel and creating story ideas. The first got me to thinking about doing a four-part feature on the four stages of the writing process, something I am familiar with as a Composition professor. The second got me to thinking about my own ways of getting inspired for writing and the things I have done in the past to build and maintain interest. So here is the first post, covering prewriting and getting inspiration, as those go hand-in-hand with each other to work toward the same purpose: getting you ready to start writing.
I feel like confessing something at the beginning: I teach my students to do all sorts of techniques for prewriting their papers but I am horrible about prewriting myself. I don’t outline. I never map or web ideas. I rarely list things out or even freewrite about what I plan to write about. But I will talk about the benefits of all of those things and celebrate in their successes when one helps them get a good paper idea going.
My mind does not want to get organized in this way. I have tried and failed, many times. Outlines are excellent tools for writing because they map out all the major things from beginning to end. It serves as a guide to keep your writing on course like a map and a compass on a ship. It is effective and helps lots of writers have structure and organization. But that doesn’t work for me.
I have tried listing things out, jotting the major events and features of a story before beginning. Everything I knew about that potential story went onto the page and it seemed complete. I haven’t started on that story yet, and nearly a year later I could still recite most of those points without looking at the list. Because my brain works that way: the stories stick in my skull until I write them. Those are the tales I choose to weave, the ones that have staying power because they have a harmony with some inner part of me. They demand to be told because they refuse to go away. And every week or month that passes before writing them down the story progresses a little more, fleshes out a bit further, until it has marinated long enough to be a full-fledged story or book. I have several in my mind right now. None of them are going anywhere. Sometimes the story may not get used, but bits and pieces may get grafted into other stories where it suits the tale. Ideas are swirling, yet I write none of them down until I begin the story.
I have tried to write out a synopsis ahead of time as a freewriting task. This probably suits my style more than anything else. Get it all out there in complete thoughts and paragraphs of progression and then sort it all out later. It makes sense. Still won’t do it. Probably, at least.
So these ideas stick in my head until I start writing, but where do they come from? Where do I search for inspiration? What do I turn to when I am stuck? There are two things I have tried and found success with:
I used to run a lot more often, and when I did sometimes I would take nothing with me and just run outside, letting my mind wander through scenes coming next in my story. I fleshed out five or six chapters in a single run before, and when I sat down over the following sessions I knew exactly what to write and in which order to write it all out. This is still a method that works well, as running outdoors is a solitary task that allows me the time and space to think about the things I need to consider. It also distracts my mind from considering the strain I am placing on my body, allowing me to go longer and press a little harder than I might have been able to otherwise. My runs when I don’t brainstorm are now spent listening to episodes of the Writing Excuses podcast which are the perfect length for running.
My other source of inspiration simply involves getting out into nature. Unplugging from the computers and televisions and cell phones and other technological devices can be refreshing. It is a reminder that there is a world of beauty around me that I can immerse myself in, taking in the sights and sounds and smells on a nice hike. Plus I have a pretty epic destination to hike to that is relatively close to home. Who wouldn’t be inspired by climbing up to this miniature castle tower? As a fantasy author, it is a perfect hike even though it is certainly no substitute for the real thing.
So what about you? How do you come up with your story ideas? Do you prewrite things at all or are you like me, where the stories just fling around inside your head and you write the ones that stick? What are some of the activities you do or places you go to get inspired when you need new ideas or time to think through some scenes? Leave a comment below.
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