Here’s a conundrum. You’ve got the motivation to write, maybe even the enthusiasm, but you haven’t got a clue what to write about. Now, most people would give the advice of, “Well, how about a writing prompt—there are thousands of them online,” and while that’s true, writing prompts are only one comparatively narrow suggestion. Maybe every writing prompt you see looks stale and tired or maybe any outside suggestions won’t penetrate the part of your brain that makes you care enough to write. Don’t fret though, there are a few more options for you.
Buzzfeed is a dark and disturbing place if you consider yourself a writer. Articles that have maybe 100 words of text and 15 well-pruned gifs seem to make up a majority of the site, and from a writer’s perspective, that alone is super cringeworthy. However, there is a strange upside to the proliferation of listicles. Any well-constructed listicle can be a source of great inspiration. At its best, a listicle will be accompanied by a dozen or more well-primed gifs or images which do a better job than writing prompts of stimulating the imagination. Add to that the snarky little comments that appear with every picture and you’ve got yourself a dozen writing prompts with images.
Sound a little preposterous? Maybe, but a Buzzfeed article about the “15 things every socially awkward person understands” inspired this section. I’m not saying it implanted any ideas or phrasing into my mind but that it simply got my imagination out of the rut of nothingness and into the open planes of creation.
Buzzfeed listicles are good for spur of the moment inspiration, but in the long term you should consider:
Daily Writing Prompts
Don’t just google “writing prompts” every time you get writer’s block. Instead find a writing prompt on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram or whatever service you like just so long as it’s regularly updated in a way where you don’t do the fetching yourself.
Chances you you’re having some pretty intense emotions related to your writer’s block.
What you will notice after signing up for regular writing prompts is that most of the prompts do nothing for you. That’s okay, most people need more inspiration than two lines of text and while a few new writing prompts a day won’t do it for you all the time. It’ll work sometimes, but more specifically you’ll notice that you remember some of the more clever writing prompts weeks or months later. Your subconscious will start to ruminate on some of the prompts, join prompts together, and ruminate on those ideas as well.
Getting that daily writing prompt is like taking allergy medication. It probably won’t work the first time you try it but after a while it starts to build up in your system. One day—BAM!—you’ve got the first few lines to a story that’s a mix of “What if every hobo woke up with a million dollars in their bindle?” and “You’ve deciphered the Minions’ language; what are they talking about?” or whatever prompts you’ve been percolating in your imagination.
But sometimes there is no catalyst in that moment, and that’s a perfect time to fall back on:
Sometimes when you want a brainstorm all you get are clear skies and nothingness. When my mind has all but shut out the concept of creation, I need to do some long-term manicuring to get my mental faculties back to a place of productivity. Reading, especially (if not obviously) a book you actually want to read, forces you to meditate on big complex ideas.
Personally, I’m in love with pulp science fiction, so diving into Asimov or something else with strong tones of social allegory puts me in a contemplative state. Usually I will not want to write later that day, but by the time I’ve finished reading the Foundation Series again my brain is exploding with philosophical dilemmas. Poetry can do much the same as novels but without as much of a time commitment. Perhaps find something from your favorite poet or use google to find a new poet who writes in the same vain.
And while reading takes a while to get you back to a place of exposition and imagination, there is a guaranteed way to overcome writer’s block.
Write About Writing (WAW)
I know, it sounds kind of obnoxious. Truth is I’m doing it now and it’s a little bit of a turn off, especially considering I could be writing some experimental sci-fi. But this technique is sort of a last resort. WAW (not to be confused with the teaching practice of the same name) is helpful because there is literally never a barrier to doing it. Don’t know what to write about? Well you could start by writing “I don’t know what to write about” and from there proceed to elaborate.
I understand that the “elaborate” bit may be tricky, but start by writing about how you feel about not knowing what to write. Chances are you’re having some pretty intense emotions related to your writer’s block. I get incredibly anxious and a tad bit depressed when I want to write but no ideas are flowing and anxiety and depression have infinite nooks and crannies to explore. Most of the time your writing about writing will end up in the trash bin but that’s the thing about writer’s block, you don’t need to conquer it with a masterpiece, you just need to conquer it period.
I hope one of these suggestions is helpful, but they remain ultimately suggestions. I make no promises that they’ll work for you, but if all else fails, WAW it up till ideas start flowing about your preferred topic. If you have any more suggestions to get your brain going when everything feels stale, tell me about them in the comments.