If you’re a writer who struggles with matters related to confidence, you’re not alone. Many emerging writers are hard-pressed to believe in the value of their creative work. They often question the power of their words, the resonance of their ideas, even their worthiness to write. A woman in one of my workshops once said to me: ‘Who am I to write?’ I immediately replied: ‘Who are you not to?’
It’s common for those new to the craft (and those not so new) to feel daunted by the sight of a blank page…all that white space that needs to be filled. The challenge of attempting to make something out of nothing—indeed, to make something meaningful out of nothing—can at times feel overwhelming. Anxiety and uncertainty creep in, generating something akin to creative paralysis. If this all sounds familiar, here’s some advice: Don’t let self-doubt take hold! Writing is hard work: it’s not easy to find the right words, craft sentences, build paragraphs, paint scenes, and, ultimately, construct a story. The last thing you need to do is make the job even tougher by committing acts of psychological self-sabotage.
The good news is that writing doesn’t always have to feel like a task of Sisyphean proportions; there are ways to make the creative journey a little less arduous. On that note, listed below are a few hacks for helping to generate creative momentum.
Start With One Character and Build From There
Getting to know your protagonist or, more specifically, getting to know your protagonist’s particular set of circumstances, will help tremendously when it comes to drafting your narrative. (This guiding rule applies to both fiction and memoir.) Let your protagonist lead the way a little in terms of revealing the primary scenario destined to take centre-stage in your story. Invite your protagonist to offer up important information about their fears, hopes, dreams, even their sauciest secrets. Ask them: What is it that you want? Why do you want it? What is in your way or preventing you from attaining this goal? How far would you go to get it? Etc. When you tune into a character in this way, you’ll soon be able to imagine them moving about, acting on their thoughts, interacting with others, as well as making choices and decisions; from there, repercussions will follow. And, alas, you’ll have drafted a set of cause-and-effect events largely driven by a character’s circumstances, otherwise known as a plot. You can then record various plot points and endeavour to shape these into a draft story arc.
The arc of a story is simply its beginning, middle, and end. When opening your narrative, look to sketch out events and circumstances brimming with conflict and unanswered questions. The middle of your story should be embedded with a sense of rising tension, action, complications, more questions, along with a few answers to partially satiate a reader’s curiosity. When ending a narrative, strive to depict the overall outcome likely to result from your character’s circumstances, while also providing more answers for readers, and a sense of resolution. By this stage, you should have a significant amount of creative material to work with, and other key characters (related to the protagonist’s circumstances) will have entered your mind. Suddenly, the task of building your storyworld will no longer seem anywhere near as intimidating as it had before you commenced the drafting process.
Work with Scenes
Once you’ve brainstormed some ideas around character and plot development, it can help to envisage a few scenes. In these scenes, allow your character to perform: describe their behaviour, how they talk with others, the decisions they make. This scene-oriented approach to writing is a key ingredient of “showing” rather than “telling”, and will help bring your character to life. It’s also vitally important to “anchor” your scenes in a sense of place and time. This means you need to depict a clear setting for your character to inhabit, a setting that a reader can clearly “see”, as they would if viewing a movie. Brainstorm significant details relevant to the setting and the protagonist’s circumstances. Use your senses: convey what your character might see, hear, smell, taste, etc. Providing sensory-rich detail is on par with opening the door to your storyworld and allowing readers to take a ring-side seat from which to view all the unfolding action and drama. Producing scene-based writing, as opposed to serving out generous portions of narrative summary, is a great way to engage readers. It’s also a terrific remedy for writer’s block.
Write with Others
Something inexplicable happens when there’s a group of writers working together. It’s as if some sort of strange alchemy comes into play, unleashing a powerful creative dynamic that most people, if not all, can tap into. I’ve seen this dynamic unfold time and time again in writing workshops over the years. In such scenarios, I rarely witness anyone who is completely stuck for ideas…usually, something will come to mind. So, if you haven’t already, you might like to consider joining a local writing group. It need not be an ongoing commitment, but it could be just the little push you need in order to kick-start your creative momentum.
If you’d like to access more tips on crafting engaging narrative, while writing with others in a workshop-oriented environment, then check out the 4-week Introduction to Creative Writing course that I’ll be running at the Queensland Writers Centre as of Wednesday January 30. Classes run from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. Hope to see you there!