Often as a writer I find myself slowed up on a project because I’m looking for just the right idea to fill it out. The thing is, I don’t want just any old idea, I have plenty of ideas for the sake of having ideas. I’m never short on overall ideas for novels or other projects I might do. But when it comes to writing the particular project right in front of me, while I might have a general sense of it, I find I’m looking for not just any idea to bring it together but the perfect idea–one that will bring together logic, theme, and the mood of the piece, that will not just fill it out but take the project to a whole new level.
It’s not that I have no ideas, but that none of the ones I have quite fit. Sometimes there’s clear reasons why it’s not really right for the project, but lots of times the problem is more nebulous. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t excite me or inspire me. It seems a little cliche or lackluster. Usually when other writers tell me they’re stuck or have writer’s block, this is what they’re looking for as well–the perfect, stunning, shiny solution to whatever snag the project has.
I have a few strategies for trying to find that illusive bit of inspiration.
Sitting and thinking, picturing each idea I have for solving the problem in my head, or each direction for the project, I can delve into my creative reserve and search for a connection and angle that will make the project shine. Note, this is NOT surfing the net or watching a show or playing a video game. All those just postpone searching for the solution. Ruminating is just thinking, more like meditating, on the project, using the mind and imagination.
This is my favorite solution, because I tend to be too restless and distracted just ruminating. I slip into surfing the net or reading a book or some other procrastination task. When walking the body is working, but the mind is relatively free to mull over the project, especially at a natural park with a long hiking trail. I prefer trails that are challenging but not too steep (it’s distracting to be out of breath) and away from traffic. The physical activity keeps me focused while not interfering with mulling over the project. I get my best ideas while walking.
Driving or showering can work the same way, but I find waiting in line or in a waiting room for appointments is more difficult. There’s more distractions and usually I’m impatient to get to whatever I’m waiting for.
Trying the Wrong Idea
Since writing itself also stimulates creativity, sometimes I can freewrite myself out of my situation. I usually open a new document making this version of the project unofficial and lower pressure. It’s not “real.” Then I pick an idea/direction that is interesting but that I’m not satisfied with, and try writing it anyway as the unofficial draft version. Sometimes after a couple hundred words I’ll find the idea has morphed into something I like a lot better than the original concept.
Tap the Synergy of Others
If none of the rest of this works, sometimes I’ll bring other people into my creative debate. Talking over the idea in a group or with a close friend who enjoys talking about story ideas can kick loose new ideas. Sometimes just the process of articulating the story to someone else will clarify what it is I need or want out of it and why it’s not flowing. I make sure when using other people to respectfully thank them for all their ideas, even when most of them are not ones I’m interested in using, and to remember to have a good time and let the discussion turn to joking. Later, I can mull over what they’ve said and decide if it’s worth trying or not.
Work on Another Project
Sometimes the only course is to give a project space until that perfect idea comes along, but the trouble with procrastination activities like reading, internet, or movies is they rarely bring me a solution, more postpone and distract me. It gets harder to work if my habit of working/writing is disrupted. By picking another project that’s also important, I’m keeping my creativity active. Sometimes while working on the other project, I’ll sudden have something occur to me that will be pretty close to that perfect idea to fix the first one.