As a writer I’m often asked how to overcome writer’s block. You sit down full of enthusiasm and a blank screen stares back at you, daring your fingers to touch the keyboard, or your pen to destroy the pristine surface of a blank sheet of paper. Fortunately, this is something I’ve never found a problem; I always have plenty of ideas but not enough time.
From when I was very young, I’ve always written a daily diary, but the small notebooks and later the thick folders, have now been replaced by a file on my laptop. Even though the early diaries were exceedingly boring, it was good training. Whether I’m writing a short story, a book, a screenplay or even attempting a TV script, each have their own rules, but the principle of having a basic idea to start the creative juices flowing is the same. When I get an idea, I jot down a few words, or a paragraph with a name, the date and perhaps a reminder of its origin. These go into a folder ready to take their turn when I need something for my blog, author page or even a new book.
Where does the inspiration come from? The short answer is anywhere. If something causes a reaction, either personally or to someone else, it could be a good topic. Browsing Facebook, listening to conversations, watching the news or even gazing out the window with an open mind, starts the process until it becomes second nature.
I write in various genres and recently had cause to open the folder to check on something, and discovered there were around 100 files, dating back several years. They don’t always go in the direction I originally intended – a sloppy romance turned into a zombie story, a factual incident ended up as a comedy, and a serious archery article became a vampire story.
A recent frustrating call to a GP’s surgery was a prime example. The patient was informed that before renewing their medication, they needed to make an appointment to see the Doctor and to have a blood test. Sounds simple enough but the virus makes it more complicated, and turned it into a chicken and egg situation. The Doctor would ‘hand’ the blood test form to the patient during an appointment, but needed the results of the tests before making an appointment. Add in the fact the doctors were only doing telephone appointments and it bring up visions of trying to pour pints of blood down a telephone wire. Please don’t mention other types of specimens!
The virus also changed daily routines when the normal quiet writing time is disturbed by others confined to the house, making concentration difficult. You might have seen the brilliant sketch a friend (Paula) made of a DIY-er hanging through the ceiling calling for help, whilst the writer is on a roll with their latest blockbuster. The caption ‘Stop fussing, it’s only been two days,’ still makes me giggle. It’s all about priorities.
It helps to have a weird mind, but here are some of my other story ideas:
- A recent book about a stranger turning up on the doorstep after being away for many years, reminded me of the poem ‘The Listeners’ by Walter De La Mare. The book is a regency romance, but I imagined a dark winter’s night, and the traveller returning home to find the house boarded up and deserted. Where have his family gone? What has happened to them? What will he do now?
- A bearded, motorcycle-riding friend was told he reminded someone of a garden gnome. Cue ‘Gnome on a Motorbike.’
- Research revealed my favourite animal, a unicorn, was probably descended from a rhino, resulting in the short story ‘The Rhunicorn.’
- A recently retired bookshop owner posted a photo of his Zimmer frame. Having used one myself, I know that despite being a rather large and clumsy piece of equipment, however much you try to tuck them away people will always walk into them. ‘The Invisible Zimmer Frame’ opens up all sorts of possibilities.
- The recent revelation there were 13 Zodiac signs not 12, made me think of the world moving at a different pace, and a new date for the calendar The 32nd of Divovembre.
- The news about changing retirement dates, and when people were able to collect their pensions inspired a dystopian short story. What if ‘R’ day meant not just retirement but a formal change of status, and the final stage before ‘D’ day, when you were exterminated to make room for the next generation.
- A male author friend (Rick) suggested a combined project ‘Vamos a La Playa’ where we would take it in turns to write chapters about a trip to the beach from both male and female points of view. Due to other commitments, it’s on the TBD list at the moment, but it started me wondering ‘What if he was distracted when booking and the couple ended up in Alba, Transylvania instead of Alba, Spain?’ A whole different ball-game.
Even research using Google can bring up some great story ideas. One link leads to another and before you know it hours have passed, and you have moved on from an octopus being able to squeeze through small spaces as it has no backbone, to the most undetectable poison for use on the person who keeps interrupting. 😀 An author’s Google history would often be enough to have them incarcerated, which has just given me another idea!
My book, ‘Spirit of Technology’ was inspired when an editor mentioned something she sent me must have been lost in the ether.
I love 60s music, and some of the song titles from that time were a source of inspiration for many short stories. Several ended up being combined into an anthology for my latest book ‘Listen to Love.’
The Mediterranean island of Malta has been a big influence in my life, and features in both ‘Summer Changes, Winter Tears,’ a romance set in Malta,
and ‘Story of A Country Boy,’ a semi-factual drama of a young Maltese boy seeking his fortune in the bright lights of Soho.
Somehow this blank page appears to have filled itself with words, but I’ll leave you with a question. What recent event has given you food for thought?
It might not necessarily be major news, but something as banal as your local shop introducing a fruit you’ve never seen before, an unusual plant appearing in your garden, or an appliance turning itself on and off for no apparent reason. Post in the comments and you might even find your story appearing on the blog.
Thanks for listening, and see you next week.
© Voinks August 2020