Everyone gets stuck now and then, it’s normal. There are countless ways to get unstuck again, but I believe the best cure for it is the geeky child within us. Not some illusive secret, not some magic trick, not some philosophical thinky-thoughts, and certainly not resignation to the idea and trudging along anyway as if you’re writing your way to the gallows. Bunch of raisin-sprinkled bollocks! The best cure for writer’s block is our inner child. That geeky, pimply little kid with huge eyes and an even huger imagination. If anyone knows how to have a great time with minimal resources it’s him.
Let’s see what the geeky kid inside of you would tell you, to get your creativity unstuck again.
1. Pick a book you really loved, and pick a couple of characters that stuck out as interesting. Now write down everything you can imagine these people did AFTER the book ended. What are their lives now? What new adventures will they go on? Don’t write fan fiction or anything as complex as a scene. Just jot down ideas. Go crazy!
2. Watch your favorite movie again, and see if you could imagine it from the villain’s perspective. All of it, every scene. Replace the scenes where the protagonist was alone, with ones where you would show the villain’s real self. Note what you would change in the script to make him shine. Or you could just watch a foreign movie and speak for all the characters (ideally together with someone else who’s as nutty as you). Chinese movies are particularly eligible. Fun is guaranteed!
3. Play a video game on your computer (or PS3, Xbox, whatever) and narrate what you see and do on the go. If it’s a strategy game, narrate in omniscient POV; if it’s a first person shooter, narrate in first person POV; if it’s an adventure game use third person. Use a tone adequate for the game’s atmosphere, and build the character’s voice up as if you’re inhabiting the body of a real person. What does your character think as those big monsters decide to smash him? Is he afraid? Pissed off? What’s he trying to protect or prove? How about if you’re a sniper on top of a building, aiming at a bunch of Nazis? Why are you here? What makes you pull the trigger? Narrate it! Aloud and uncompromising. Don’t worry about what your significant other thinks. If she doesn’t already know you’re special, it’s a about time she found out.
4. Comics. If you love them, you have at least a whole bunch, maybe even some exclusive editions still suspended in time in their original packaging. Pick some you really loved and try to act them out. That’s right, you heard me. Slap a coat or towel on your shoulders and slip into the skin of your favorite superhero, and just act out the story as poignantly as you can. If it requires you lock yourself in a soundproof room, do it. Whatever it takes. Let the drama flow!
5. Action figures. You must have some, right? I’ve got Star Wars: The Clone Wars figures on my desk, and re-arrange them every day just for the heck of it. (You should see tiny Yoda right now, climbing into my pencil box to sniff some glue.) Take your favorite action figures and just play with them for a bit, imagine a tense scene with high stakes, have them fight or flee for their lives. Talk to them, talk for them, feel what they might be feeling. Submerge in the awesome world of shameless imagination you had as a kid, and just frolic in your geekiness.
6. If there are children in your family or your immediate neighborhood (and they’re not scared of you) go play with them. Make up a story on the spot, improvised out of whatever’s at hand, and rip them along for the joyride. You can use toys, costumes, objects, explore the neighborhood or your house and garden, go on an adventure, really get into it, merge with your character and make him believable. And don’t do it halfassed, the kids will smell a fake-o from a mile away. Give yourself a push and do it right. Do it for the kids!
7. If you have any other creative vein in you, like music, knitting, painting, pottery, woodcarving, gardening, whatEVER, it’s time to put it to use in the service of storytelling. Flex your mental muscles and try to create a piece of art that captures a literary theme, or the theme of your last story. Or the emotional landscape of your protagonist. Or YOUR emotional landscape. Place the resulting art piece close to your writing place, conquer that spot in the name of art, make it intimately yours again. That totem will keep all evil spirits and demonic insecurites at bay. Now you are a multi-talented artiste, there are stories inside of you that don’t even require words. You can do this, you’re a storyteller by nature, all those writing rules and genre limits are just dust in the wind. Only the story matters.
8. You had a favorite story as a kid, a fairy tale. What was it? Can you reshape it to fit into a futuristic world filled with technology? Can you rewrite it to fit into a mythical world filled with magic? Can you rewrite it to fit in today’s New York? What would it take to make this new version an awesome hit with today’s kids? Write down a couple of things, brainstorm a little. Would you still love the story told in this new way?
9. Build something. There’s got to be some Legos in your house, either yours from long ago, or your kids’. Build a mysterious, powerful device that can change the future of humanity. How would it do that? Who would build such a machine, and what for? How will society react to it? Imagine that each piece, as you add it to your device, has it’s own story. Someone had to design it, someone had to provide the material, and it had to be transported to the building site. Someone’s life got ruined as he worked on this piece. What happened to him, and why? Keep your hands moving and your mind wandering.
10. Take a bubble bath. Lean back and submerge until your ears are under water, but your nose and mouth are above it. Close your eyes. How does the silence of outer space sound like? You’re alone in a shuttle, the muffled roar of the engine somewhere in the background. You can almost feel the vastness of the universe. Except… something’s not right. What is it? Or you might be an underwater creature, or if you’re lucky enough to have toys you can bring in to play with—ships, boats, divers, sharks… then you’re up for a real adventure. How does it feel to be the sole and mighty Ruler on an aquatic world?
11. Chemistry sets, microscopes, telescopes, the works. If you don’t have at least ONE of those, you’re missing out on the not-so-obvious beauty of the world. Look at an ant through a microscope (even a kids’ microscope) and discover the fascinating side of insects. Look for our neighbor planets in the night sky, or just spy on that creepy neighbor uphill, the one you’ve always suspected had skeletons in his closet. Real ones. What story could you conjure up around a giant ant from space and your murderous neighbor who creates chemical weapons in his basement?
12. Explore a patch of nature with the open-mindedness and curiosity of a true adventurer. You’re Columbus setting foot on the Americas for the first time, or Marco Polo exploring Asia, or even monsieur Cousteau! Make travel notes and invent stories to make your adventures seem even wilder by the time you get home and report to your envious enemies and your adoring spouse. Any patch of nature will do — the neighborhood park, your back yard, a forest or mountain, a lake or river. Get out of the house and put on your discoverer’s hat. See the world as if it’s the first time you see it. Hey, you can even be an alien who just landed.
13. Write a list of awesome things you would do if you were an android. Or a super-powerful AI. Or a Jedi. Or a dragon. Or a wizzard. Or a pixie. Then try to find ways you could STILL do those things if you were you. Is there a way to at least pretend you’re able to do some of those cool things? How might you convince a three-year-old that you can see the future or remote control all devices in your home with your mind? How about you go ahead and pretend for a while, have some fun.
If you’re asking yourself “What do these things have to do with writing?” then you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not writing that’s the problem when we get stuck. We just forget that it’s all about storytelling, and storytelling is about letting your imagination run wild, and having fun!
You can invent entire worlds without props and external support. You can come up with amazing stories and incredible characters without giving an ant’s fart on what’s expected of you — no pressure to perform, no grand purpose to your creativity, no other interest than fun. Good old fun. THAT’s the magic of becoming your inner child again.
Want to shake out of that debilitating state of fear and insecurity? Remind yourself how to PLAY with stories again. Let the geekines and childish enthusiasm take over, so your creativity can shine again.