As creators, we’ve all been there, showing up to do the work, and nothing happened. Going through the motions, following the ritual (you do have a ritual?), yet the creative spark is gone, not even smoldering ashes left. The empty page.The blank canvas. The feared creative block. “Is it all gone? Will I ever be able to write anything? What’s happening?” That’s scary. I know it because I’ve been there. Too often.
Try Visual Writing Prompts…
One of the tricks I’ve learned to jumpstart my writing when I feel stuck is visual writing prompts. I would pick a random photo and force myself to write the beginning of a story based on the image. Something short and easy to get me going. You can see an example at the end of this post.
I try not to use one of my own photos but something completely different, to force my brain into something new. A site such as Unsplash, offering free photos for download, is great for the purpose. (I may want to use a text in the future, so it’s good to know I won’t need to worry about licensing).
This gets me started at any time, just because I don’t have any expectations to produce something extraordinary or brilliant. I’m just supposed to write a few words; I can do that.
… And Avoid Distractions
However, more often than not, as my writing starts to flow, it takes me in a new direction. I’m suddenly drawn into a new story, and curiosity pushes me to continue instead of returning to what I was working on. It’s good fun, and the temptation is to go with the flow. The brain is skilled at taking the path of the least resistance, that old rascal.
This is where discipline comes in. I can’t afford to start on a new story; I have to finish what I’ve started before going in a new direction. It’s tempting to abandon the work when the going gets tough and respond to a new project’s sirens’ song. But all this approach does is make sure I don’t finish anything, ending up with many great starts with no ends. Ask me how I know.
Use a Slush File…
This is where a slush file comes in handy. What’s a slush file, you ask. This is where all good but seducing ideas go. Got a great idea for a different project? I write it down and return to the project I was working on. Once I’ve finished it, I’ll visit the slush file and pick a new project.
… And Keep It Simple
My slush file is very straightforward: a bullet point list in Apple’s Notes app, points grouped by project. Something like this:
- End of the world story, a prepper & his cousin.
- “Prepper John” has a so-called shack middle of nowhere, in fact, a well-stored bunker. Remote island??
- Cousin (she), a journalist, meets him at the shack for an interview on prepping.
I keep the Notes app easily accessible on my phone’s home screen. I don’t need to search for it, or open folders and files. As soon as I get one of those tempting ideas, I just write it down quickly in Notes, and resume whatever I was doing at the time.
Visual Writing Prompt Example
I leave you with an example of a visual prompt. I found an everyday photo of a garage on Unsplash; these are a few story beginnings I wrote. I can tell you that I’ve used my slush file after this exercise. (Yep, I love a good zombie story, I admit. And terriers called Jexy.)
- I was tinkering with my old motorcycle in my parents’ subbasement garage, with Jaxy as sole company, when the first zombies reached Stockholm. That saved my life.
- Having my own space was the most important thing back then. Even if it was just a run-down garage with an astronomical rent and rich in cockroaches.
- My new home office didn’t look much to the world, but it was my own. Only Jaxy seemed to think differently and barked at the battered van. I had to agree, “some renovation needed” was an understatement.
- The morning the first undead burst into the city, Mats woke up in a dilapidated garage, his head pulsing with the mother of all headaches. A dog stared at him, tail wagging furiously back and forth. Where the hell was he? What was he doing in this, this…place? With a terrier? If it was a terrier, Mats didn’t know much about dogs and frankly, didn’t care. Of course, had he known about the undead, his view of things may have been slightly different.
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