Do you have tips for coming up with a new story idea when feeling stuck?

Q&A With Shay Each Sunday

Even if there is a never-ending stream of inspiration and general ideas in the mind of a writer, they don’t always come to the surface so seamlessly. Just because something is a great idea, it might not always feel like one you can build a whole story around. I have a lot of random notes written down where I think I’ve come up with something really profound or a great line for a character to say, but it isn’t a whole book in itself.

Q: Do you have tips for coming up with a new story idea when feeling stuck?
A: So, as I mentioned I have a lot of ideas floating around, and some of them are actually ideas for full books or short stories. Even if the idea for the book seems great, sometimes it can be a lot more difficult than I anticipate when I actually go to write it, so I often have to put things on the back burner for a bit. I haven’t actually truly immersed myself in a new book to write in about five years. I have been working on the same two young adult novels off and on for close to ten years—taking many breaks in between, going through lots of editing, etc. I did release a book of poetry in the meantime, and poetry can be rewarding to write even if you are just simply looking to produce something new. Maybe you will even get a bigger idea for a story based on a poem or quote you write. I must admit that I started out compiling my book of poetry in order to do just this—have a finished product. That’s not why I wrote the poems in the first place, but once I started getting eager to finish a book and have something to put out into the world, that’s when I decided to put them together as a book. It was a much shorter process than tackling and finishing an entire novel. I have also started a couple other novels, and I have a foundation going for one of them whenever I actually “finish” the one I’m working on now. So, I guess I have started new projects but not in a way where I have been prepared to fully get into it yet. I am hoping the book idea will pan out the way I envision—but that’s never really the case, especially since I don’t outline. So, I haven’t personally needed help coming up with a full on book idea basically since I’ve been writing books. If anything, I can’t get to my ideas fast enough!

To become unstuck and find new ideas, leave yourself open to let any idea come in. A lot of times you’ll hear advice like: It happens when you least expect it, yada yada. I agree for some walks of life, but not for making your own writing happen. That you have to be open to—look for the inspiration, don’t wait for it. I’d probably suggest a ton of reading, watching movies and shows, listening to music. Basically, surround yourself with art until something sparks a thought in you. You’ll always be able to come up with ideas, but being open to the possibility of if something will actually be a full book idea is very different than an “ordinary” idea. Also, listen to those around you and their conversations, whether they are conversations you are having or simply eavesdropping. People and their weird quirks and flaws and the way their minds work are the best models for stories—believable characters have to be based in reality in some way to be just that, believable. Stories can be driven by concepts, characters, settings, or any multitude of things—you never know what exactly will spark it, so keep your eyes open, but actually look. Maybe keep a journal. I’m sure it’s a really good practice to get into. I have always wanted to keep a daily journal but I have never stuck with it. It will give you the ability to make some sort of sense of your thoughts and ruminate on past scenarios. Maybe I really do need a journal to find some sort of semblance inside my head. I guess in a way I kind of keep track by writing a lot of random things down in the notes on my phone—so that’s something, right?

There are stories all around us. I have so many true life stories I want to base fiction books or short stories on but the execution is a different beast entirely. The ideas are always there, it’s how to go about it that I find to be a much more challenging thing. So, if you have the idea but actually writing the story is what you are stuck on, there isn’t any magical fix—just keep writing it, pulling your hair out, crying into your hands, drinking your lattes, and maybe one day it will all click. I know, I don’t want to hear that either.

What do you do to become unstuck? Do you have a bank of ideas all the time or do you sometimes struggle to find new ones? I don’t think many writers struggle for ideas in my experience—there’s no idea block, there’s project block, which I have felt plenty of…we’re all in that one together!