Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Take Your Muse Out of Hibernation

White space is overrated.

Its been a big buzz word on blogs over this past year. We all need more margin in our lives like the white on pieces of paper. We fill our pages with busyness and chaos as if they are a letter written when paper is scarce. Cross-hatched words fill every available space.

Don't they get the fact that this metaphor takes a reverse meaning for us creative types. The dreaded white page. Writer's block. I can’t seem to get past this type of white page. Seeing white is not a positive thing for a writer.

Do you ever have those times where you can’t seem to get past the white page?

Why does our idea well dry up? Here are a few reasons and some applications.

1) I’ll never be a good writer, so why bother.

First of all, we should clarify, often what we might really mean is I’ll never be a published writer. So let’s not disillusion ourselves, maybe we won’t be published. Or it might still take a while. Let’s not get caught in a trap of seeing publishing as the true purpose of our writing.

Truth and application:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:21)

Grow in your writing now. Read, read, read. Fill your mind with the best books, not only in the genre you write but in other genres.

Some favorite books:

Anything by Writer’s Digest
GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
On Writing by Stephen King (Warning: some language usage in this book)
Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson

2) I just need to do a bit more research, I don’t have all the details down.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to have all the facts down. But not necesarily before you start writing. It is good to do some preliminary research, but don’t get stuck there.

Is my main character going to wear a silk or calico dress to the party in chapter 3? And will she wear the same dress to church in chapter 7? Would my campers eat baked beans in a can, or were those not in existence yet?

Truth & Application:

Most of these questions will be asked when you are actually doing the writing, so you’ll end up doing a fair amount of research as you go along.

As a former librarian, I tend to get a bit obsessed about the details. I LOVE research, probably almost as much as I love writing. I can convince myself I can’t start writing yet because I don’t have every detail down. When in reality, I need to do a bit of research, then sit my rear in the chair to write and use my non-writing time to do the rest of the research.

My suggestion: Separate from your writing time, devote 15 minutes a day to reading a research book devoted to your time period or subject.

Some great resources include:
-Writer’s Digest books again
-Smithsonian has a fabulous batch of children’s history books that are great for book research on the basic level
-Memoirs: this is my favorite. I don’t like reading any fiction from the era I’m writing about but I do love reading memoirs because they give me a closer sense into the emotional world of my characters.

4) I’m having trouble connecting with this story emotionally.

Explore the why.

I’ve been thinking a lot about dealing with Alzheimer’s disease in a novel. On the one hand, I’ve seen the disease devastate a close family member on a very real level for most of my childhood.

Writing about an issue that is close to your heart can be challenging. Even though my character was different from my grandmother in many ways, I found it brought up some memories I had not thought of for years. I keep putting this book away then picking it back up again. And that’s OK, because I’m not totally ready to deal with all of it.

Truth & Application:

Is there something emotional or spiritual you need to deal with that will free you up to write this book or story?

Maybe you need to journal a bit about the events in your own life that are causing your story to hit a bit close to home. Maybe you need to talk to a friend about it.

Or perhaps you need to temporarily switch to a new story for a week or so (if God is nudging you to write this novel, you’ll return to it). Write a poem, a short short, or a devotional in the meantime.

Then you’ll be better ready to tackle your story. Your story is not your therapy, but it can be therapeutic.

5) I’m waiting for the “AHA” moment to come.

Sitting in front of a piece of paper, you might feel stopped up. The reasons can be varied: boredom with the story, environment, too many distractions, or too much noise.

Truth & Application:

Find a new spot for inspiration. This might be kind of sad but sometimes I find taking a hot shower with the door locked is the perfect spot to be inspired. This is because I have two elementary-aged kids around 24/7 and the bathroom can be the only quiet place in the house. If I had alone time I would resort to my favorite inspiration: walking or riding my bicycle around the neighborhood.

There’s something to be said for endorphins and ideas. I have been taking long rides on my stationery bike (would love to go outside and do so, but I live in snowpocalypse country) and find some of my best inspiration while riding.

Do you have a favorite writing spot? Or maybe its time to find a new one? Maybe try that new coffee shop or find a spacious park with a great bench.

And speaking of changes some authors find that changing writing implements can be helpful. Handwriting instead of typing, using colored markers or pencils, maybe even an old fashioned fountain pen can bring refreshment.

6) My creativity has dried up altogether.

Again we need to explore the why. Has a traumatic event or a major change taken place in your life? Have you been taking the time to write on a frequent basis? Has there been a change in your environment (i.e. taking on a new job, buying a new house, changing locations, etc).

Truth & Application:

Have you been reading? I find if I go for a few weeks without reading fiction I tend to have trouble thinking of my own ideas. Its a oft quoted cliche, but so true that to improve at our writing we need to read, read, read. Try reading a new genre. Ask friends for recommendations. Reading just might be the catalyst to pull you out of your slump.

What about other forms of art? Karen finds pleasure in painting and home decorating. Sherrinda creates scrapbooks and creates word art. See on her blog here. I know other writers who take enjoy creating in the kitchen.

Have you spent time with the Author of Creativity? Prayer and time in the Word of God can help bring our focus back and remind us that we write because “when we write we feel his pleasure” (Eric Liddell, Olympic runner on running).

What about you? What helps when your well of creativity dries up? Do you have any favorite methods of bringing inspiration back into your writing?

Julia writes contemporary fiction to mirror truth. A former assistant librarian, she now channels her card cataloguing skills into homeschooling her elementary aged littles and writing for Library Journal. She has reviewed for a variety of websites for several years.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

How did I not know you used to be a librarian? :) That would be like a dream job, I think...at least for me. It seems low key, the atmosphere is awesome, the smell is fantastic...sigh, I would like it, I do believe!

Great tips here, Julia. The white page is such a fearsome thing at times. It really is best just to write for the love of it and don't fear. You can always edit the junk out, right? ;)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great post, Julia! You laid out some great ideas here. I can't think of any ideas that help me when my well of creativity dries up. Oh, actually, sometimes watching a movie spurs some thoughts for my story.

Thanks for all the super tips!

Angela said...

I love these tips!


Julia M. Reffner said...


It is a great job! Fits with my love for books and catalogueing things. You would love it, I'll bet. Unfortunately the job market for it is terrible!

I love what you said about writing for love and not fear. Something I definitely need to remember.

Julia M. Reffner said...


Yes, LOVE movies for that reason. Hope you can enjoy some great relax with your family this week, you deserve it!


Thank you. Glad it was helpful and so glad you stopped to comment.

Ashley Clark said...

Great post, Julia! I especially liked what you had to say about what to do when creativity dries up. Lots of insight here!