So. It’s been a while since you stumbled across a new (“good”) idea, hasn’t it?
First of all — this is totally normal. Every writer experiences what I like to call “brain drought.” It’s the opposite of brain rush, which is that sudden seemingly unstoppable rush of ideas that sometimes happens, mostly in moments that couldn’t be any less convenient. Sometimes ideas just don’t seem to be coming around. It happens.
Second of all — trust me on this one — it’s going to be OK.
Can you “summon” ideas when there don’t seem to be any around? Maybe. But not “for free.” If you’re hungry for more ideas, it’s going to take some effort. Here’s what I do when I want to write but the ideas won’t cooperate. Maybe these steps will work for you, too.
Get rid of your brain clutter. Hey, I get it — life is stressful and unpredictable and there are some things you cannot completely erase from your mind. Earlier this year I could barely focus on my writing for a week because my puppy was sick and getting through my day job was the absolute maximum I could handle. Everyone has some version of “my puppy is sick.” It happens. You can’t stop it or control it.
But as much as you can, you have to clear out the clutter in your brain as efficiently and as often as you can manage. These are things like old ideas that have been rolling around in there for a while, things you keep remembering you need to do but haven’t added to your to-do list yet, and those “I need to tell so and so about this thing that happened this morning.” You have to get it all out to make more room for new things, especially new ideas.
How do you de-clutter your mind? I always start with writing down the things that I keep fixating on at inconvenient moments. Yesterday I had to add a reminder to my phone to call my friend on her birthday because I couldn’t do it at 6 a.m. (well, I could have, but that wouldn’t have been nice). I bought a dry-erase desk specifically so I could jot down story ideas at a moment’s notice, even during work meetings (ssshhh don’t tell!). You don’t have to buy a dry-erase desk. It’s just an example.
Whatever method works for you, get the old things out. If you keep thinking about something and that thought is becoming a distraction, get it out of your head and onto figurative paper. Hurry! You’ve no time to waste!
Do creative things that don’t involve writing. Writing is a very specific skill that requires a unique kind of focus and thought process. Sometimes when you’re running low on ideas, it’s because you’ve been spending a lot of time writing and/or thinking critically about the things you want to write or have written, and you need a little break.
But you don’t have to turn your brain off completely to summon new ideas — not every time, anyway; vacations are nice, but you can’t take them as often as you might want to, realistically). In fact, many people struggle with brain drought because they have a hard time “getting back into the zone” after giving themselves too much time off.
So when you need a short break from writing — as all of us do at some point and THAT IS BOTH OK AND TOTALLY NORMAL — what should you do? Anything that gets your creative energy fired up! Paint! Make music! Draw things! Dance! Anything creative goes!
The best part about this is that you don’t even have to be good at it. You just have to start doing it and let it fuel your inspiration. There is no right or wrong way to do it, no best or worst activity or something you have to or shouldn’t do. It’s your choice and it’s based on what gives you that free “infinite” feeling. It encourages you to escape to a place in your brain that welcomes new ideas and lets them plant and grow.
Don’t be afraid to do things that don’t involve writing in your free time. As long as you’re still writing consistently, a little creative “freedom” never hurts.
Be open to every possibility. Have you ever been met by an idea you weren’t sure you could mesh with? It happens to all of us. Whether it’s the result of imposter syndrome, nerves, or just raw, paralyzing fear, doubting a brand-new possibility can feel intimidating and fill you with intense doubt. What if you fail? What if halfway through you realize it’s not an idea you want to pursue? What if you spend time on something you don’t end up using? What if? What if? What if??
Here’s my advice: Give it a chance. Even if you’re not sure it’s going to work out. Because the truth is, the majority of the time you spend writing throughout your life isn’t going to generate something that’s publishable or usable. There is a reason I tell writers they need to “practice.” Not everything should be for show. Sometimes you have to take a risk and try things in your own private space, and if they don’t work, all you have to do is set them aside and move on.
But you can’t just reject an idea in its earliest form simply becuase you’re not sure how or if it’s going to work. Well, I suppose you can technically do whatever you want, but in order to attract more ideas for possible use, you have to be willing to try anything that comes along. The more you open your brain up to new ideas, the more new ideas will find you.
Sometimes, ideas just pop into your head and you run with them. Other times, you might stare at a blank page for 15 minutes before something finally clicks. (I’m not recommending you actually stare at a blank page when you’re stuck, but you get the idea). Be patient. Clear your head. Get inspired by doing. And don’t be afraid to give raw ideas a try. Who knows? They might turn into a blog post that actually sort of works.
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.