Sitting down to write for hours sends many authors into a prison-like world. We fall into a spiraling abyss of fantasy and imagination as we search for the right words to convey our stories. More often than not, these tales began in the real world. Yet as writers we shut ourselves out of this world in order to dive deeper inside our imagination. We push away what's real in order to create our own realty. We become more and more detached.
We can't push it all away, though; we need to take much of it with us.
It's true that artists need to create a sensory deprivation in order to allow rich creative juices to flow freely; but at some point, we need to return to the here and now. We need to restock our library of imagination.
When I'm not writing - when I'm living my daily life - I try to be present to the sensory input around me. Each smell, taste and sound is a potential element in my next chapter. I try to take full advantage of this reality. Part of writing is observing what's real so that we can embed it in our stories of fiction.
When outside, be present to the sun's warming rays on your cool skin; embrace the vibratory rattle of a passing car's bass; savor the sweet squirt of juice as you bite into a tender orange; behold the bitter stench of skunk as it wafts through the backyard air. Writers must embrace each sensory experience so that we can recall it when needed in our stories. Try these ideas to heighten your senses.
The next time you are stuck in your story, step outside and feel the warm sun or bitter chill. Stand there and absorb it, embrace it, taste it, smell it. Bring it all into your tale so that your story comes alive.
Out west, over here on the left coast, in the dry deserts of California, we're having a drought. Oh, we had some torrential rains a few weeks back, but that was merely a drop in the bucket. Snow levels are at record lows, reservoirs are evaporating as we speak, and politicians are drafting water ration rules.
Droughts aren't fun. And for some reason, they seem to spring upon us water users like a tiger from the jungle. We heard about you, Ole Man Drought, but we never thought you'd actually show.
Sitting by my window as the sun filters gently across my writing desk, I realize there's something to learn here. Something to infuse my writing. Something to feed my plot.
How might a drought change events in my story? What would happen if there were a terrible rain storm that flooded the streets? What if my MC found herself caught in a rainstorm without protection? Who might show up to protect her?
I have a list of 27 possible scenarios from this "drought seed".
Nature has always played a role in my writing, but I failed to realize its ability to turn a plot. Nature is not a simple backdrop. Rain, drought, winds, snow can each play a role in the story. Nature is a character.
If we treat Nature as a character, imagine its possibilities. It no longer sits quietly in the background. It now has voice, dimension. Nature can have its own destiny. Nature does not need to be your central character, but it can show up now and again to place an unexpected twist or turn in your story.
Today, my character will walk outside in her summer attire expecting nothing but sunshine. She will be unpleasantly surprised as afternoon clouds arrive dark and heavy. Where can this sudden rainstorm take my plot? Where will it take yours?
Whenever I'm stuck in my writing, I take a moment to step outside. I join in as life's spectator and observe the real world around me.
Typically, most of us write inside, at a table, on a chair, maybe in bed. With a pen and paper, tablet or laptop, or a typewriter. Doesn't matter. We are set indoors with our 21st century tools.
That doesn't mean we are locked in. Everywhere I've set myself up for writing, I've arranged my desk at a window.
I need to see out so that I can grow what is within.
I'm not distracted. Rather, I'm inspired. And I'm reminded of what is real. This connection to the world keeps me tethered in my fantasy. I can stretch as far out as I need while keeping an anchor on what is real and possible.
If my character is stuck (read: I'm stuck), a gaze out my window at a car passing by or a small boy walking a big dog or postman carting a heavy bag usually does the trick. Life has given me a new event to help my plot along. If this particular character is searching for something, maybe a letter arrives in the mail. Or a child asks him to help find his lost dog. Or he crashes his car into a light post and a stranger who comes to help knows something about what it is he's searching for. Anything is possible. You are the magician; you just need to reach down inside that magic bag.
When you are stuck, look outside your window. Step outside your fixed world of metal and keyboards and paper and pens. If art is to imitate life, we must participate in life. Start off as the spectator, the rest will fall into place.