Happy February folks! I think February might be my favourite month (except maybe August, because it’s my birthday). Both my brothers’ and my Dad’s birthdays are in Feb, and of course we have Pancake Day and Valentine’s Day, so plenty of excuses to celebrate and eat lots of yummy treats. It’s short, which means payday is right around the corner, and if we’re lucky there are a few mild days and the snowdrops and crocuses come out, reminding us that Spring isn’t far off.
In today’s post, I wanted to focus on one of the most important non-writing elements of being a writer – consuming content to replenish the creative stores.
As you’ll know if you’ve been around here a while, I’m currently trying my hand at a slightly more contemporary YA story, rather than my usual fantasy, and I’m finding it kind of hard going. Something I’ve realised recently is that, whilst I’ve read hundreds of YA fantasy novels in my life, I haven’t read anywhere near as many contemporaries, and I now see why my first novel, The Fair Queen, came to me so easily, and my current WIP is eluding me at every comma and full stop. I need to build up my contemporary creative stores – or completely rework my WIP to make it a full on fantasy, instead of the wishy-washy contemporary-with-fantastical-elements I’m currently churning out like a particularly stubborn batch of butter.
While I decide how to proceed with that, here are a few tips and ideas for replenishing your own creative stores in between writing projects, or when you’re struggling to connect with your muse.
When you’re deep in drafting or editing mode, you might want to avoid reading other books in your genre for fear of seeing similarities everywhere you look. However, when you’re trying to formulate an idea for your next WIP, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on as many new novels in your chosen genre as possible, so you can see what’s currently popular, what the publishing houses are buying and your potential readers are loving. In addition, you should throw in a few bestselling books from other genres and age ranges – if you write YA, pick up a couple of MG and adult novels; if you write fantasy, grab a few contemporaries and historical novels.
Reading widely will give you a much bigger pool of plot devices to draw from, inspiration for new characters and settings, and maybe even sentence structure and word choice ideas. Plus, borrowing from novels outside your own genre means any similarities in the end result of your novel will be almost completely unrecognisable – and, honestly, there’s nothing unique in this world, so it won’t matter to agents or readers (as long as you don’t plagiarise, of course).
Watch more TV
There you go, I’m giving you a legitimate excuse to binge watch that new series on Netflix! Seriously though, you don’t have to take all your inspiration from books just because you’re an author, the writing on some of the best shows and movies is just as good, if not better than many books (sacrilege, I know). I don’t mean literary adaptations, which are almost universally inferior to the original, I think we can agree, but when a screenwriter has crafted a beautiful story that works perfectly with their chosen media, it’s definitely a valuable source of inspiration.
One thing TV and film do well is dialogue, with a tight word limit to work with, keeping conversations short, to the point, but still gripping and effective is a real challenge. If one of your writing struggles is crafting credible dialogue, keep a notepad next to you when you watch TV and scribble down any snippets that could come in handy when you next sit down to write. It’s less about the specific words and phrases, and more about the overall flow of conversation, where the natural pauses fall and how you could convey tone by describing body language and actions in between lines.
Is this anyone else’s favourite pastime? You’re out and about, surrounded by strangers with lives just as full and fascinating as your own, listening to their conversations and imagining what they do for work, who they love, where they live. It’s basically a free character creation prompt.
Real life people aren’t as good for dialogue inspiration as you’d think, we pause too often, stumble over our words, repeat ourselves and change subject mid-sentence. Written dialogue needs to be cleaner, more concise and always have a purpose, you can’t afford to waste your word count on pointless pleasantries and nonsensical ramblings.
However, people watching is absolutely perfect for picking up mannerisms and reactions, for spotting the things we do when we think no one’s looking, and understanding the behaviour of people different to ourselves. If you’re an adult trying to write a YA novel, watch the teenagers you pass on your next day out, see how they behave around each other and how it differs when they’re with their parents. If you’re single and writing about a character who’s married with kids, keep an eye out for the mum in the supermarket trying to wrangle her toddler whilst stocking up on groceries for the family, what’s she buying? Is she patient with the kid, or visibly stressed out? Eavesdrop on the couple at the next table when you’re out for dinner, try and guess how long they’ve been together, how they met and what they’d do if an armed robber burst into the restaurant right at that moment. Would he protect her? Would she hand over her purse, or refuse?
Make it a game and you’ll never struggle for character ideas.
Get back to nature
One of the main things that inspired me when I was plotting and writing The Fair Queen was my local area (I lived near Sherwood Forest at the time), and I never failed to come back from a walk with my dog filled with inspiration for the setting of my next scene. I always have my phone with me, so I often took photos of interesting looking trees, or local wildflowers so I could Google them later and use them to inform my descriptions.
Even when I didn’t need any more direct inspiration for my novel’s setting, just going for a walk and getting some fresh air always helped me craft the next scene in my mind before heading home to write it. Whenever I struggled over a particular plot point I’d go over and over the idea in my mind whilst out for a walk, until I’d worked it out completely and unstuck myself. I can’t recommend it enough, even if you live in a city centre, just changing your environment for a while and possibly discovering a part of your home town you’d never seen before could provide you with the solution to your writing problem.
Writing requires a huge investment of creativity and conscious thought, so it makes sense that we need to refill the cup every now and then before we can pour from it again. These are just a few tips that have helped me when I’ve needed to replenish the creative stores and get inspired, hopefully they’ll work for you too. If you’ve got any other ways of making sure you’re not running on empty next time you sit down to write, leave them in the comments, I’d love to try some new ones!