A course like mine – the Creative Writing BA at the University of East Anglia – requires you to be creative even when you feel uninspired. When I’m working to deadlines, having to turn in drafts for specific dates, there’s no time to wait around until an idea comes to you, you have to go in search of that idea. I’ve already written a post on how to cure writer’s block (which I’ll link below) but sometimes it’s more than just struggling to find the words. Sometimes it’s a struggle to find the whole concept.
This is why, personally, I always start with an image. Picture a single image and a brief description will come to you. Where are you? What can you see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Touch? Answer these questions and you’ve got a setting.
‘I’m standing by the edge of the pool. The sun is low, casting long, drawn-out shadows across the tiles. Looking out across the horizon the sea shimmers in a heat wave. The palm trees off to the right give me a valedictory wave in the breeze, but it doesn’t make it any cooler. My skin is dewy with sweat. Even with the hotel kitchen right behind me it doesn’t mask the unmistakeable scent of salt in the air. I can taste it’s coating on my lips. I’m leaving this place. I don’t know where I’m heading but I’ll be gone within the hour…’
So you can see, simply from starting with the description of a scene a story is beginning to take place. Personally I enjoy opening with a hint of mystery, making the reader want to know more.
Next you have to discover why your character is there and what they are doing. Who else is involved? What’s the action in this scene? Where’s it heading? Sometimes these can be the most difficult questions to figure out, which is why free writing, or automatic writing, is such a huge help. This is when you write without even thinking about what you’re saying. You’re literally not allowed to take your pen off the paper. (For me I find pen and paper far better than drafting on a laptop since you can scribble and cross out – it gives you so much more freedom). Free writing can give you a lot of good stuff – and a lot of rubbish too – but there’s nothing that says you have to use any of it. You can pick and choose what you like and what heads to the trash can.
‘Megan rushes up to me, blinking back tears in her eyes. She knows what I’m about to do and she isn’t going to stop me. Strong girl, I think. She throws her arms around my waist, her face hot on my chest. A minute passes and she pulls away. We face the ocean, arms around each other, watching the birds fly, a black arrow moving towards the West. Perhaps that’s where I’ll be going too. Perhaps I’ll catch up with them one day…’
The more free writing you do the more ideas you can create. J. K. Rowling has admitted to being a meticulous planner, knowing how the final Harry Potter book would finish even before writing the first word, but I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t always have to be this way. It may make the editing process longer but I believe you can make it up as you go along, so long as you ensure the overarching plot is still cohesive. The important thing is to dabble with different ideas, explore different options, see where your writing takes you!
Happy writing! Over and out –
PS That’s one of my holiday pics from Malta last summer – lovely huh!
The link as promised: