You know that feeling when you feel more awake than you have in days, your coffee is hot, your laptop is open, you’re ready to go, and then when you place your fingers on the keys to type just….nothing?
Yeah, we all have days like that. Everyone suffers from writer’s block now and then—even the greats—and now and then, everyone is looking for some inspiration.
The good news is, inspiration is everywhere, and whether you’re ready to start something new, ready to get back into writing after not writing for a while and aren’t sure how to start, or you’re in the middle of your WIP and not sure where to go next, it is possible to shake the writer’s block.
I know it can be tempting to just binge Netflix and hope inspiration somehow magically finds you, but try to resist the temptation (I know. It’s hard.) Instead, try one of the ideas from the little cheat sheet I’ve composed below: 15 things you can try when you have writer’s block, need to get some fresh ideas, or are just looking for a shot of inspiration.
1. People watch
People watching is a surefire way to get a little inspiration or get some ideas. You could choose a certain person you see and think about what their life might be like, look at a group and think about how they all might know each other, and maybe get some inspiration or influential points for your characters. People watching is totally free and can be done tons of places—grab yourself an iced coffee and nab a spot on a park bench, a Starbucks, in front of the big windows at a coffee shop, a bench at the mall, a scenic spot on your college campus…basically anywhere with people where you’re allowed to hang around is a good place to people watch.
Just…don’t be too much of a creep. You know, be a little subtle.
2. Overhear some conversations
Okay, I’m not saying eavesdrop on people, but, you know…maybe kind of overhear what they’re talking about. This sort of goes hand in hand with people watching. When you’re out and about or you’re people watching, hearing snippets of people’s conversations can be a great place to get ideas. You could hear a little of what someone is saying and imagine what their conversation might have been about, what the dynamics of their relationship with the other person in the conversation might be, or even what their lives are like beyond that. I’ve heard some weird bits of conversation just in my daily travels (you know, to the bookstore and the coffee shop and back six hundred times), and sometimes I find myself wondering, what on earth could they have been talking about? If it gets you thinking, and brings you to an interesting idea, go ahead and use that interesting idea. Like I said, anything can get you thinking.
3. Go for a walk
I know, I know. People say this all the time. People who are not writers and have no idea what the creative process is like, so sometimes it can come across as the most annoying advice on earth. I personally have rolled my eyes at this suggestion quite a few times. But it can be helpful. First of all, it can get you away from staring at your computer or your notebook endlessly, just giving yourself a headache trying to figure out what the hell you are doing. (Plus, it actually is bad for your eyes to stare at a screen for too long, even though we all do it.) But also, once you’re not staring at that screen anymore, watching that daunting cursor flash accusingly at you, you can end up getting ideas or clearing things up for yourself because you got a nice change of scenery and a healthy helping of fresh air. I mean, it can’t hurt, right?
4. Look at people’s houses/homes
This is one you can do while you’re on that walk getting all that fresh air. There’s a lot that can be learned—or in this case assumed—about people from looking at their houses. For instance, what does it say about someone that they have 30 garden gnomes on their front lawn? Who lives in that spooky old house on the corner where you never see anyone coming or going? We might not actually know the answers to these things, but the ones we come up with in our heads could make some pretty good stories.
5. Listen to music
This one might seem obvious, but you can get a ton of inspiration from music. You can be inspired by the lyrics, the music, or just the overall vibe of music. If you’re really stuck for inspiration or having trouble getting past a certain point in your WIP, maybe try switching up the type of music you usually listen to. Your brain can be accustomed to hearing the same things over and over, and then it may not jog any new ideas. But listening to something outside your usual realm of preferred tunes might get those wheels turning. Usually a big fan of heavy metal? Maybe try some classical. Generally more of the bubblegum pop type? See if some rap lyrics inspire you. You never know when you might hear something in music that will get the creative juices flowing.
6. Go to an antique store or thrift shop
Try not to get too distracted by thrifting for perfectly worn in flannels or pre-softened band tees, but really. Antique shops and thrift stores undoubtedly always have a lot of interesting items in stock. You can definitely find something there to inspire you. Think about an item or a couple of items. Where did they come from? Who owned them before? What were their owners like? There’s tons of speculating that can be done, and every item there is pre-owned, which means they already have a story behind them. It’s up to you to come up with that story.
For example, some of these pictures from my most recent trip to the thrift store:
Okay, I think you’re kind of getting my point here.
Also, a lot of my thoughts go straight to, “Is this haunted?” because as you may know, I looove spooky stuff (and because, ya know, everything is haunted). But there are definitely other directions to take and other ways to get your inspiration. Some antique shops even sell old photos, and the concept of looking at an old photo from the life of a complete stranger and trying to piece together what their life might have been like, what that day might have been like when the photo was taken—there are definitely some good stories lurking there.
7. Read the news
I realize in today’s day and age this one can be a little daunting and a lot scary, but a lot of good books and stories are inspired by things that are happening in our own current events and the way that they reflect on our lives. If that’s something that interests you, or something you think you may be good at, reading or watching news stories could be an excellent source of inspiration for you, whether you want to look further into unsolved crimes and write about them (like one of my favorite YouTubers, Cayleigh Elise, and her Dark Matters series), write political commentary, or something else altogether, the news could be a helpful route out of writer’s block and into the realm of ideas.
8. Think about events in your own life
In my previous post about figuring out what to write about, I mentioned that you don’t necessarily have to write what you know, but don’t forget that what you know can be an excellent source of inspiration. If you’ve ever experienced anything interesting or anything that you felt has a lot of meaning to your life, you can write about that as either non-fiction or fiction. Or you can think about things that have happened in your life and ask yourself what might have happened if those events had gone differently, and use that to inspire a story or an idea. Remember, it doesn’t have to be true to life. It just has to spark the flame that becomes the story or novel you were looking for. It just has to get you thinking.
I think it’s safe to say that writers are naturally daydreamers, which is actually something we can often be chided for as children. But when it comes to inspiration or ideas, I think a little daydreaming can actually be really helpful. Of course, you don’t want to daydream your whole day away, or you’ll never get any actual writing done, but I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been stuck on something in a novel I’m working on, and I find myself staring off into space, kind of lost in my own thoughts, just daydreaming about my characters, and I end up daydreaming myself right out of my writer’s block because I was allowing my mind to kind of just wander free, rather than trying to force a result. Daydreaming—while seemingly impractical—can actually be incredibly useful.
10. Visit a museum.
Any type of museum could work for this. Visit an art museum and walk around and look at the art. Think about the images. Think about what they make you think, make you feel. Let those images inspire you. Or you could visit a history museum and learn about a historical event, and get inspired by that—what would it have been like to be alive during that time? Could you write a story from the perspective of one of the lives portrayed in the museum? Overall, museums can be a great source of inspiration, and tons of cities (and even some smaller towns) have certain days when you can get into museums for free. All you have to do is check their website and see when their free days are. And once a year, The Smithsonian sponsors Free Museum Day, and you can check out participating museums here. As a result, this source of inspiration won’t end up costing you a dime.
11. Ask yourself, “what if?”
I sort of touched on this when I talked about being inspired by things in your life, but asking what if can be an easy way to get an idea for a story. This was actually a method for getting ideas which I was told way back when I was a little kid and my teachers found out I was interested in writing stories. Back then, the idea was more along the lines of, “What if you woke up one day and the sky was pink?” or something like that, but once you’re older, you can still employ this method. For example, what if the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow? What if I found out I had a long lost twin? What if my car was stolen and I was solely responsible for stealing it back? Whatever you come up with, write about it! (I’m willing to bet a ton of books, even really famous ones, were conceived using the what if concept. Maybe…what if there was a magical hidden train platform between platforms 9 and 10? What if we lived in a world where books were outlawed? Just a thought.)
12. Look at Craigslist ads
I know it sounds weird. Usually, you don’t look on Craigslist unless you’re trying to find someone super shady to sell you an old tube TV or you just want to give away a couch that had the middle cushion chewed to shreds by your dog (no, really, this actually happened to a friend of mine), but you never know what you could find on there that could get the wheels of creativity turning and give you some ideas. Whether you speculate about who would sell some of the weird things on there or try to write a story where you reunite some people from the missed connections section, Craigslist is full of hidden gems. And weirdos.
13. Check out the classified ads
Okay. Hang on tight. I’m about to blow your mind. I know it sounds crazy, but there’s this thing that’s just like Craigslist, except it’s on paper. I know, wild, right?! It’s called the classified section, and it comes in most newspapers!
Okay, okay. I’ll stop. All jokes aside, the classified ads could work similarly to perusing Craigslist if you’re on the hunt for inspiration. Maybe you see an ad for someone giving a away a rocking chair. What kind of home did that rocking chair belong to? What kind of life has it had? IS IT HAUNTED?
See, that’s right where my mind goes. My bad.
14. Use writing prompts
Personally, I’m not usually a big fan of writing prompts, but I know people who love them, simply because it’s a great way to get your brain working, get thinking about something, or just start putting something on the page. Sometimes is the key is to start getting something on the page, and whether or not you keep that, or run with that, it got the ball rolling, and either it breaks the dam for you in terms of creativity, or you’re able to take some small snippet of something you wrote in response to that prompt and turn it into something bigger. Or maybe the prompt itself results in a story you absolutely love! You never know, but either way, writing prompts can be helpful in a lot of ways.
It’s easy to find tons of writing prompts online simply by Googling “writing prompts” or typing it in as a search on Pinterest, and you can even get books or journals of writing prompts, like this one that I spotted at Barnes & Noble today for just under $8:
15. Rethink a story you already know
This has been done tons of times, and for a pretty simple reason: it works well. While not every interpretation is going to be your favorite, it’s definitely a good way to get inspiration. Whether you’re retelling a fairy tale like Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series or re-imagining a classic like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, there are definitely ways to think about things in a new light. Just be careful not to step on any toes in terms of copyright, and most importantly, have fun!
At the end of the day, though it definitely may feel like it, writer’s block is not the end of the world. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to resign yourself to it. If you find yourself up against a wall, take a step back, take a deep breath—and then grab yourself a hatchet and smash right through that wall, The Shining style.
What are your tried and true methods for getting past writer’s block? How do you get ideas when you’re stuck? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3