Teens Can Write, Too!

Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework

Q&A: Starting Is the Hard Part (Or, How to Get Creatively Re-Inspired)

Quick side note before the post: today, TCWT is participating in action/2015, a global campaign (in conjunction with the organization Save The Children and supported by the UN) that encourages young people to speak out with a unified voice against issues of extreme poverty, gender inequality, and climate change. If you have some time, I encourage you to check out this page I made with more details about the campaign and how to help out. See that here.

Action 2015

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Hi everyone! Today I’m doing something a little different–a mini Q&A. As I’ve mentioned before, you can always email questions to the TCWT team, and, considering this blog is dedicated to helping out awesome writers in any way we can, we love being able to offer some advice. We’ve gotten some great questions, but, with the author’s permission, I’ve decided to answer this one in particular on the blog because I know it’s something that a lot of writers struggle with.

(Please note: the first two ellipses below are mine. I just shortened the question a bit.)

My name’s Yasmine and I’m 15 years old; I have the aim of getting back into writing! Usually, I find that I am unmotivated to write although I have many project ideas on my pen drive (I guess I feel a bit overwhelmed) and I struggle to find to find time and the creativity with homework and school as well as exams coming up. Further, I also find that I am very easily distracted by websites online… When I was younger I used to write chapters and chapters about magic and boarding school… but now I struggle to do so… a lot. I’m not sure what to do. I’ve tried prompts and photos when I’ve had time!

Do you think there is anyway that I could find the willpower to write on top of all of this school work? And do you think it’s possible to improve creativity, and if so how?

Hi Yasmine! Thanks for your question.

Holy crap, do I relate to this. I have maybe a couple months out of the year when I consistently feel inspired, but writing during those other ten months is hellish. I’m really sorry you’ve been struggling, though. If it’s any consolation, you aren’t alone. Almost every writer has to deal with this, usually pretty frequently, and it sucks. But it doesn’t last forever. You can totally get back into the swing of things. Time management is always difficult, but if you are able to get yourself re-inspired–boost your creativity, as you said–you will find that whatever bits of time you do have to write will become a lot more productive.

Below are some tips that have worked for me in the past in terms of boosting creativity. Please keep in mind, though, that writing is totally subjective, and what works for me may not work for you. These are just ideas. Only try them if they sound like they might be useful. Hope this helps!

Handwriting. This is the first thing I always recommend. Assuming you’re writing your book on a computer or phone or someplace electronic, switching to actual paper for a while is a great way to boost inspiration. There’s something about switching to pen and paper that makes me see my story differently and usually sparks new ideas. Handwriting is intimate in a way that typing really isn’t, and if you’re able to push away all distractions for a few minutes and just starting writing, I think you’ll find that your ideas will begin to flow. What I like to do is print out whatever I’ve written so far (if anything), grab a pen, go outside or to a quiet place in my house, reread the beginning of the story, and then start writing from where I left off.

Whatever the case, make sure you get away from electronics for a little while, and plan on giving yourself maybe thirty minutes a night where you just write by hand. (When your writing starts to flow again, you can switch to typing, if you prefer that.) I have a feeling it will help you see your story in a different light, and it’ll resurrect some of that lost inspiration.

Just write. I know this sounds simplistic–and it is–but it’s important. The best way to reignite that creative spark is to get used to writing your book again. So: maybe you’ve been struggling with writing because you haven’t figured out your main character’s voice, or because you don’t know who your main character is as a person yet, or because you don’t think you can possibly replicate that awesome short story you finished last year. While you can wait it out and let your subconscious work out ideas, to me, a really useful solution is to take a breath and just start writing.

It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter if the scene relates to some greater story, or if it’s just random babble that you are sure will make anyone who reads it question your sanity. It just matters that you’re writing–that you’re getting (re)acquainted with your characters, that you’re figuring out your voice, that you’re getting back into the swing of things, because then your inspiration will start to pick up again. So, say you’re really pissed about not knowing what to write. A good solution is to write a scene from your main character’s point of view wherein he or she spends the whole time complaining about how incredibly impossible writing is. This’ll get you in the head of your main character, get you used to writing again, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with because, you know, it’s how you feel.

You can do a similar thing by writing descriptions. Sit by a window and describe the tree outside your house, for example. Maybe write about how uncanny the physical similarities are between your sadistic pre-calc teacher and Ebenezer Scrooge. It doesn’t matter. All that counts is that you’re writing. Just write what you feel–and, if you’re trying to get inspired to finish a novel or short story, write it all from your main character’s point of view.

Basically, what you want is to get your brain focused on writing again. To do that, just slowly work your way from writing miscellaneous scenes/descriptions/etc to writing the short story or novel you’ve been wanting to tackle, because then you will feel more and more of a pull to write. While you may have to force yourself at first, once your muse returns to you, writing will become natural again.

I think of it like exercise: it sucks epically when you haven’t done it for a while, but once you get back into the swing of things, it gets easier and easier.

Read. Read. Read. Read. Or re-read. I swear, books solve everything.

If you’re really worn out from writing and don’t know how to start it up again, and if the whole “just write” method doesn’t work for you, reading is the best thing to do. Immersing yourself in great books does, to some extent, what I mentioned before: it gets you used to words again. Maybe reading doesn’t get you used to writing, per se, but it reacquaints you with awesome plots and characters and worlds and themes, and it really does help to reignite your inspiration.

If you’re truly stuck, turn to books. Maybe even jot down some bits of fan-fiction when you finish a novel if you feel it might be useful–anything that might help is worth trying.

The scene method. The “scene method” is my totally made-up strategy for writers who have been struggling to finish a novel or long short story. For new writers, and for writers who haven’t written a book in a while, finishing can feel like this Holy Grail that you need to reach, such that, every time you write, you focus on that goal and that goal only. But the problem with approaching every book with this thought process is that it will often make things even more frustrating when you hit a creative block several thousand or so words in.

My advice? Take it one scene at a time. Do everything you can to focus on writing your book, not just on finishing it. Set little goals for yourself, scene by scene. Before you write your first scene, for example, map out what you hope to happen in it, and give yourself a lenient deadline by which you should finish it. That way, hitting each goal will be an accomplishment–and will feel like its own little “finishing”–and writing a novel will be less of a perilous, uphill battle. After you’re done with the scene, if you’re the type to edit as you write, go back and revise it for a while. If not, work on planning out, in however much detail you need, the scene you’re going to write next. Then set yourself a lenient deadline, and repeat the process. Finish the scene. Celebrate. Plot out the next. Finish the scene. Celebrate again.

Novels will always have their hitches, but this method really could help to make your writing go more smoothly, and breaking down something as huge and daunting as finishing a novel in little increments–and celebrating each accomplishment–could be immensely useful.

***

I realize this is all difficult to do while balancing school, though, and to answer that part of the question, I have to echo what I said above: do everything you can to make time. In my opinion, unless your schedule is completely packed, boosting your creativity is the difficult part, because once you’re feeling inspired, whatever spare minutes of free writing time you have will be so much more productive than if you aren’t inspired.

Best of luck! I hope this helps!

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About Michael Waters

I'm Michael, I'm eighteen, and I blog about YA books for Barnes & Noble.

21 comments on “Q&A: Starting Is the Hard Part (Or, How to Get Creatively Re-Inspired)

  1. Thanks for this post! I struggle with this a lot, too, but I’ve found that as I write more sitting down to write gets easier and easier. Now I write everyday once I’ve finished all my homework. Even if it’s 11pm and I’m really tired, I’ll just scavenge a few sentences. Writing by hand does wonders for my writing. Someday I want to write a whole novel longhand. I have no idea how that will work out, but I hope it goes well.

    • John Hansen
      January 15, 2015

      That’s so great! God, I wish I could get into a routine like that. Routines make writing so much easier, and it’s nice to be able to escape into words at the end of each day.

      Writing a novel long-hand sounds incredibly daunting. (Good luck with it!)

  2. Kira Budge
    January 15, 2015

    It’s also good not to pressure yourself too much. 🙂 I find that I struggle a lot when I get worked up about how I NEED to finish, I NEED to send out to agents, I NEED to get published, ASAP. Just do it for the fun of it, you know?

    • John Hansen
      January 15, 2015

      Exactly! I struggle with the same. The goal should be to just enjoy it in the moment. (Doing that makes writing flow a lot more easily, too.)

  3. Alexandrina Brant
    January 15, 2015

    Reblogged this on Miss Alexandrina and commented:
    Over at the Teens Can Write, Too blog (which has great writing tips for those of us who aren’t teens as well!), they’re talking about rebooting one’s writing creativity after a hiatus, be that from editing or simply not-writing. Useful and pragmatic. 🙂

    • John Hansen
      January 15, 2015

      Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

  4. Alyssa
    January 15, 2015

    Oh wow, these tips are awesome. I also find it useful – in terms of balancing school with writing – to carve out a time period every day/week just for writing. Or I chat with writing friends/betas/CPs. Thanks for the helpful post!

    • John Hansen
      January 24, 2015

      Totally agree with that! And I’m happy the post helped. 🙂

  5. erinkenobi2893
    January 16, 2015

    Writing by hand helps quite a bit, in my experience.

    • John Hansen
      January 24, 2015

      Definitely.

      • erinkenobi2893
        January 25, 2015

        So does hiccups in one’s wifi, apparently. It jump-started me back on two of my original novels I started, so that’s good. 😉

  6. aishamonet
    January 16, 2015

    #TeamJohnHansen
    Perfectly timed post, John! I’m just about to endeavor on a new project and this post was a great reminder.

    • Julia Byers
      January 24, 2015

      Aisha, I am disgusted by this comment. (Even if John’s post IS really wonderful.)

      • John Hansen
        January 24, 2015

        HAHAHA. Face it, Julia. The People have spoken. I am your superior.

      • aishamonet
        January 31, 2015

        I can’t help it, Julia! John’s pretty great even if his ego is five times taller then his height,

  7. coruscantbookshelf
    January 18, 2015

    I… kinda need a favor?
    I’m going to be snarled up with moving and starting college for pretty much all of February, so can I please have the absolute last slot on the chain? Whatever the topic.

    • John Hansen
      January 24, 2015

      Sorry for the late reply! But yes, I totally can do that for you.

      Good luck with all of the college/moving craziness!

  8. Taylor Lynn
    January 24, 2015

    Has anyone told you that you’re really great at giving advice? Seriously though, John, this is such a well-written and thoughtful post, and I can definitely relate to several of the things you’ve mentioned. Last year, for instance, I was totally in that “Holy Grail” mentality, thinking only about FINISHING what I was writing and missing out on the actual writing process. Not to say that finishing a story is a bad goal–I think it’s actually a really good one, haha!–but when I focused on just getting to the end I lost some of my enjoyment of writing, and when the enjoyment is lost, motivation is bound to follow soon after. I also agree with you about reading–if I’m feeling uninspired with my writing and I go pick up a book, getting lost in someone else’s words and world can usually help encourage me to get back to my own.

    All this to say, I think you’ve given some really great suggestions here, so thanks so much for sharing with us! (And sorry I’m so horribly late in commenting!)

    • John Hansen
      January 25, 2015

      I’m glad it resonates! I’ve also fallen into that finishing trap. You’re right that the problem is sometimes the goal can overshadow the enjoyment, and then writing will be much more difficult.

      And you totally aren’t late! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  9. Pingback: Writing Advice, Agent Interviews, Teen Authors, And More | Teens Can Write, Too!

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