My biggest writing challenge is thinking up stories.
I read blogs and comments from writers with stories springing like weeds in their heads, jostling to be told. My head is a cerebral wasteland where few shoots flourish. After decades of neglect, my imagination seems to have withered.
Advice from bloggers and magazine articles includes keeping a journal, browsing personal ads for unlikely couplings, re-imagining news items, eavesdropping on conversations and people-watching.
Remember people-watching? I used to do it in another life before I had small children to keep an eye on. (Yes… that long ago!) My (then) husband and I would watch people in pubs and parks and imagine their conversations. I seem to have lost the knack – maybe because it’s so long since I sat in a pub or park (or anywhere) without something to do.
I like puzzles, as you will have gathered from my previous post.
Life has programmed me not to waste time, so I tell myself these are brain exercises to stave off mental decline – even though exercise is anathema to me and I wouldn’t do them if I didn’t enjoy them (and having the excuse to sit).
But while I’m working on a Sudoku or Kakuro, or maybe a cryptic crossword (applying more guesswork than decryption), my imagination doesn’t get a chance to break through.
Then, when I want it to, it sulks.
Is there such a thing as imaginative decline?
Mine had no exercise for decades.
One of my writing group colleagues tells me his story ideas come when he’s cycling. Personally, I prefer four wheels, but many writers have advocated physical exercise as an imagination stimulant.
Before retirement, solutions to problems would present themselves when I walked the dogs. These days, dog walking is altogether more relaxed and the dogs get more attention. Maybe I need to be firing at 6am pre-breakfast with a busy day ahead to get those synapses sparking.
However, I’ve managed to come up with something every month for our writing group challenges. I don’t think this is to do with deadlines. I’m used to deadlines; I can do deadlines.
I think it’s more to do with getting started, even when the topic doesn’t excite me. I’m not aiming to win any prizes; I just need something to submit for the meeting.
Once I’m writing, amendments present themselves. I only have to get started.
On every management course I ever attended, time-management was one of the modules. In my case, they were preaching to the converted: with four kids and three dogs, time-management underpinned daily life. This may be why I’ve been reluctant to free-write with no end product or enter competitions whose theme didn’t inspire me.
But the journal-writers have a point. Making myself ‘just write’ does seem to release the flow.
Last weekend, I tackled the latest Writersweekly.com 24 hour Story Competition – just to see if I could – fully expecting to forfeit the five dollar registration fee when the day came.
The theme and word count arrived in my inbox at 6pm UK time on the appointed day.
I slept on it.
I awoke convinced that my idea from the night before was rubbish but couldn’t think of a better one. While walking the dogs, a new ending presented itself. Further amendments came as I wrote.
I sent off my entry with ten minutes to spare.
I’m pleased with myself, even if it isn’t the best story I’ve ever written. (I’ll post it on here when the judging’s over.)
Maybe I need to believe that even abandoned stories aren’t a waste of time – and just start writing.
My imagination seems as reluctant to exercise as my body, but they tell me working out gets easier with practice. Today, after freewriting a lot of rubbish that isn’t going anywhere, I’ve had a couple of thoughts that might – just – turn into stories.
Now, where did I put that notepad I once bought for random flashes of inspiration?
Where do you find your writing inspiration?