Everything was good. Until it wasn’t.
I had — as many others before me have — a pretty good idea for a book. I’d even started writing it. There were, however — as there often are — several problems with it even in its early stages of development.
- It didn’t have a title.
- I hadn’t figured out how to connect the two ongoing storylines in a way that made sense.
One of these issues was minor, the other pretty major. I hope you can guess which was which.
I personally believe people worry way too much about coming up with the “perfect” title before they’ve even finished/started their book. Some of the best book titles I’ve come up with came to me when I was almost finished writing the first draft. But that’s a pet peeve for another post.
As you can probably imagine, not really knowing how to form a coherent plot was a bit of a hurdle. Without giving anything away, I’ll tell you there are two things going on in this book: a husband and wife own an animal sanctuary that loses its funding, and one of them is dying.
I needed both of these things to be happening simultaneously. I didn’t know how to make it work. I’d write one scene, then another, and always felt like an important connection was missing each time I switched back and forth between the two stories.
And, you know … it’s kind of important that books make sense. To make them, like, publishable and all that.
One day, fed up with feeling like I had no idea how I was going to fix this problem (I had a working title that I hated, so I wasn’t too worried about that), I just stopped writing. I saved and closed out my document, I ate lunch, I moped around for a bit, and then I dragged myself back to my desk to write.
Except I ended up on YouTube instead somehow, watching videos, definitely not getting any writing done.
And then it happened.
Again, I’m not going to give away specifics because doing so would give away the plot twist (no, you won’t guess it based on what I’ve told you), and I’m too nice to do that to a potential future reader.
But I ended up stumbling upon a video completely unrelated to my book — or so I thought — that smacked me so hard in the face I had to watch it twice.
It was almost as if the universe had led me to this specific, seemingly random video to say, Hey! This is how you’re supposed to fix this! NOW GET OFF YOUTUBE AND WRITE GOSH DARN IT!
I did. Filled with the fire of unexpected inspiration, in less than an hour, I (sort of) fixed everything.
This video miraculously solved both of my problems simultaneously, despite what little importance the first held compared to the second. I now had a title that gave me chills — those chills you get when an idea just sort of works and everything falls into place around it and it’s better than you ever could have hoped it would be.
I was also able to write a single scene, toward the end of the book, that tied both parallel storylines together and collectively brought every scene before it underneath the thematic umbrella I hadn’t even realized I’d been seeking out for so long.
And all that occurred because I’d been watching YouTube videos instead of working on my book. Funny how creativity works that way sometimes.
They’re not lying when they say inspiration finds you when you’ve stopped looking for it. Or is that what they say about love? Anyway.
I stopped writing, left all my worries and frustrations behind, and did the best I could to relax and stop thinking about work, only to have an idea come crashing down on my head in the middle of a video about art. I certainly wasn’t going to complain, though. To this day, that scene is still my favorite one in that entire book despite the fact that it isn’t finished yet. And may never be. Who knows?
This doesn’t mean that I go straight to YouTube when I’m feeling stuck or discouraged, though. Writing is writing, and I tend to treat it like a job. Of course there will be days I can’t accomplish as much as I originally set out to, but I’m not going to give up at the first sign of trouble. I have work to do.
But still, you never know what you might discover when you stop looking for answers. This is the best part of creativity. Not realizing you’re going to stumble upon an amazing idea until it’s right in your face begging to be claimed.
Everyone gets stuck. Everyone starts to doubt themselves at some point, and wonder if what they’re doing right now will even be worth it in the future.
If you’re ever feeling like that, I’d encourage you to take a step back. Close your laptop, leave the room, and let your mind wander. Often, something as simple as walking into a different room or starting a completely unrelated activity can trigger a new creative possibility.
Ideas can’t really be explained. Most of the time they just appear unannounced and take over your thought space without asking permission. But as inconvenient as it so often is, it’s also magical. One second ago you had no idea where to take your story next, and now your head is so full of story your hands can’t write it all down fast enough.
But it’s the most rewarding when you least expect it. It’s like a gift. You technically did nothing to earn it, but it presented itself to you anyway and it’s yours to manipulate however you please. That is, until the idea decides it knows more than you about everything and you’re no longer in control of anything that happens to your characters, but hey, enjoy the freedom while it lasts.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.