If you’re a writer in the middle of the worst word blockade this side of the full moon, the last thing you want to hear is that you’re moping without cause; that there are a million story ideas out there; that truth is stranger than fiction, so start writing it down.
A prodigious author turning out novels like buns from a bakery can really get you down. Where do they get it from? All you want to do is to huddle in a corner with your headache/belly ache/gout and your dose of Dutch courage and feel sorry for yourself.
Well, I’m sorry, but close your ears if you don’t want to hear this (I didn’t): You’re moping without cause.
After decades of envying a mother who had ideas for artwork scrolling through her head 24/7, after countless hours of frustrated creative blankness and fuming at the absent muses, I have stumbled upon a solution.
Now this is not the solution. It might not be your solution. But it certainly is a solution and boy! (girl!) does it get the story scroll rolling.
Here’s how it works.
Take anyone you meet or vaguely know. It could be the cashier at the supermarket or a client at your flower shop or your co-pedestrian at the traffic lights. Take what you know about that person, however little it is. If you think it isn’t enough, try thinking like Sherlock Holmes for a second. Then ask – what if?
For example, today we worked across the road from a cemetery. There seemed to be a funeral in progress. A ute towing a caravan draws up in the street and an elderly couple get out. When I look again, they are emerging from the caravan all dressed in formal black. What do I know about them? Only that they are old, attending a funeral and not from around here, hence the caravan. Maybe it is an old friend they are burying today, one of their contemporaries that they have come a long way to bid farewell. Normal enough, but no story. But, what if?
What if it is a child who died, their only son whom they haven’t seen in years? What if they were on a long road trip and were arguing contemplating adding a reconciliatory visit to their itinerary when they got the sad news? Or what if they aren’t married at all and have for this reason been outcasts for years, now having to face the criticism of their relatives once again? What if they are actually brother and sister, fatefully thrown together by life events and unable to escape an increasingly brittle relationship? What if they are amateur actors, hurrying to the first shooting of a minor film doomed to fail? Or even, what if they are aliens?
Once you start imposing alternative story lines, there is really no end to the possibilities and no possible reason for writer’s block. Even if you don’t necessarily like where the story is taking you, at least it’s taking you somewhere.
You may come out of hiding now, put away the sad face and get on with your job. You’re a writer with a reason now and a million gazillion ideas. But, what if…?