I have tried many many different tactics to get myself to write and develop a meaningful story.
Think about trying some of the following, if–like me–you’re new to the game and looking for inspiration:
1) Write at LEAST five minutes a day, every day, no matter what. Trust me, you can do this one.
2) Revisit your story as you lay in bed, drifting off to sleep. This nightly connection helps remind your subconciousness to percolate on your story as you sleep. Plus, I like being connected to my story.
3) Have your Sketch Outline (what I call a free-form, flowing, informal style outline) broken out by chapters, or acts, or parts, or however you think.
4) Also keep a “freewrite” section, where–when structured ideas don’t come ready-made to be plugged into your Sketch Outline–you put musings, thoughts, random wandering and writing about stuff related to your story. Hell, on one particularly challenging day when nothing came to me for my story, I just wrote in that section about the quandary I’m facing trying to decide which new computer to buy (I think I’m going to go for the 13″ Macbook Air, as my wife wisely suggests). But most days I’m able to either write in the Sketch Outline section, or in the even more informal Freewrite section which could also be considered my “Percolation” section. It’s where I explore ideas without censoring myself in the slightest bit.
5) Write what appeals to me. Many times, when I sit down to write, I imagine walking up to my story and meeting it as it is at that very moment; or opening an ornate old door on the magical world my story is set in and peaking in to find out what’s going on there… But whatever metaphor you use, I find that using a metaphor to approach my story helps me discover what aspect of the story has been percolating in my absence and what’s to be put on paper. Today it was a discussion of how a revolution works. Does someone just decide to revolt? Answer: No. So what happens? Pressure gradually builds until a match lights the tinder which has been carefully piled high. It seems to me that very few revolutionaries start out thinking of themselves that way. And that is exactly the sort of thought I wrote in my freewrite/percolate section tonight.
6) Keep track of when you write and for how long (I use a free/intuitive service called Toggl.com). This helps you know when you’ve achieved your five minutes. Often I find that once I start time flies by and before I know it, Toggl tells me I’ve been writing for fifteen or twenty minutes and it’s time for bed. Well, I tell myself it’s time for bed. Toggl only tells me how long I wrote.
7) Keep track of your productivity. I find it is VERY motivating to be able to see that, yes, I did my time every day AND to see my word count grow over time. And yes, I value keeping track of my Sketch Outline/Freewrite writing. It’s not any lesser an effort than the story itself will be when I write it.
8) Look at things from every angle. Don’t allow yourself to make assumptions. Hah. Yeah right. Okay, so initially you’ll make assumptions. Note them. When you’ve made assumptions, or exercised your cliche-bone, these are the opportunities to really enrich your story. Like me with my realization that I had a whole bunch of revolutionaries in my story and no idea how the revolution had started… I didn’t even know how a historical revolution like the American Revolution started. I mean I knew the hyperbole (we wanted our independence and freedom SOOOO badly that we were willing to fight and die for it…which is only partly true), but I didn’t know the step-by-step, paint-by-numbers path to that revolution. Turns out that even hundreds of years ago, humans being humans and following their incentives is what led a bunch of people who had no plan to revolt, to revolt. Surprise! Having discussed and researched this area of assumption will make the revolution aspects of my story more believable–even to those who don’t know any more about revolutions then I did.
9) And this is related to #8: Constantly shift gears. The only way to keep building a story is to bounce from aspect to aspect, turning them upside down, inside out. Look at your characters, who they know, who they don’t know, what they know, what they don’t know, where they live, where they wish they lived, the religions, the architecture, the government, the mythology, the texts, the schooling, the geography. Relentlessly examine every last iota of your story. Doing so will reveal new opportunities to develop your story in unforeseen, worthwhile, dynamic ways.
10) Talk to someone you trust. But only as much as you need to get unstuck. And make sure they understand that your story will shift many times as you mold and shape it and the character who is passive may become active; and the angel you describe one night, might be a diabolical villain the next. It’s quite the roller-coaster being around as a writer shapes their story, it takes a special person to enjoy the process without becoming frustrated that the ground constantly shifts between their feet.
11) Go for a walk or do the dishes. Seriously. There’s nothing like doing something repetitive and straight-forward that precludes writing to fire my idea-center. Sometimes procrastination and simply giving ourselves permission to do so are immensely helpful. If you find yourself procrastinating: forgive yourself, do your five minutes, and call it a day.
This post is about all the methods I’ve attempted as part of beginning to write. Five minutes a day. Keep track of how much I write, and when and how long I write (Metrics). Don’t be rigid. Whatever comes, comes.