One of the most fundamental challenges a writer faces is writers block. The major concern sited is the lack of ideas to write about. For this reason, I urge all writers, seasoned or beginner, to begin a writers file — a place to store ideas, characters and phrases for the times of “idea drought”.
Like an experienced farmer, a seasoned writer understands the ebb and flow of the seasons, that the rains flooding with ideas, characters and plot lines can gush forth, threatening to flood the entire room, but just as quickly dry up into a searing drought which appears to have no end. Similarly, they understand that the idea of tithing– putting a little away for the leaner times or droughts which inevitably come around– is a wise move should they wish to stay in business for the long term.
Just as the GoT Starks broodily shoot stares across the room and mouth “Winter is coming”, so ought writers take heed that the spring and summertime of abundant ideas has a short span of accommodation in their life.
A writers file can take on many guises, from a tatty notebook kept stuffed in a back pack, to a high tech electronic notes system on your i-thingy. It can be a manila folio of newspaper articles, maps, a list of names, odd photos and magazine clippings of interesting faces, rooms or environments. A writers file could be a shoe box of recycled (read – stolen) movie ticket buts, menus, postcards, theatre programs and timetables from around the world. Writers love to sit in cafes, snatch dialogue from passerbys and customers, reflect and imagine what others are doing with their day and about motivation for what they are experiencing on the streetscape going by. Wise writers will continue to collect prompts, ideas and springboards for their writing, even when they are focused on a specific novel or piece; understanding that they may need their hidden gems to nudge them out of writers block one day.
Regardless of the format in which a writers file is kept, at some point it needs to be sorted into basic areas, if only to assist pulling oneself out of writers block. Sections titled , “setting”, “characters”, “events”, “props” and “dialogue” alone might prompt some ideas to begin with, should you have nothing to start your writers file up with. Never throw away a single “thing”. Every idea, no matter how strange or unrelated it may be from your current WIP or genre, may serve a purpose in the future. Sift through your notes and collected bits to file them roughly into these sections, and make sections which are more relevant to your own needs as you go along.
Emerging writers are encouraged to write every day. Every writer should strive to write something every day. This writing can be a simple journal, a turn of phrase, a description of an emotion or words which capture a feeling, place or character. From these small things, a novel can emerge and blossom. Writing regularly and as a commitment to yourself and to your craft will give you confidence to explore language and shape it alongside your characters. Keeping and maintaining a writers file will ensure that the flow of abundant ideas is kept at a constant, instead of a trickle, dominated by a temperamental muse.
This article first appeared over at Todays Author