A while ago, an author friend of mine paid me the nicest compliment. She was heading off to Australia for a combination book tour/vacation, and I tweeted to her that I was jealous (which I am. Because, duh, Australia).
She thanked me and said that since she’s routinely jealous of me this must be cosmic balance. Which surprised me, since I couldn’t really think of anything she could be jealous of — my life is pretty nifty, but she’s an award-winning YA author, her career is going great guns, and her personal life is damned fine. When I told her this, she said, “It’s that wacky imagination of yours. You got the Platinum Level kind. I had to hock my soul to just reach the Gold Level.”
I replied that I was just making a buck off my barely suppressed insanity, and to quote Will Graham, “I know what kind of crazy I am.” She said as long as I claimed it, it’s all good.
And that’s true. Because if you think about it, most writers are more than a little nuts. We create alternate realities in our heads, make up stories about those alternate realities, and tell those stories to other people. If you do that in any other field apart from acting, you wind up in a psychiatrist’s office, if not a nice quiet mental ward somewhere.
But writers are encouraged to do this. Hell, we’re paid to do it, sometimes quite well. And in return all we have to do is go inside our heads, find those other worlds, shake them hard until an interesting story falls out, and bring it back to ground state reality in one piece.
Which can be an absolute piece of cake at times; the story practically leaps into your arms, and you gently deposit it on the page with a few gentle brushes to dislodge the travel dust. It giggles, flutters its wings, burps up a couple of pink bubbles, and you send it off with a song in your heart and the sure knowledge that this one will get you that six-figure book deal that finally lets you quit your day job.
Other times, yeah, not so much. You get a tantalizing glimpse of an interesting story, but you can’t quite track it down. Or you’ve got the story, but the little bugger is fighting you like a chocolate-smeared toddler at bedtime, and you wind up needing a stiff drink and some painkillers by the time you wrestle that sucker onto the page.
And sometimes you’re stuck there looking around at your various universes, wondering why nobody is doing anything. There’s just no oomph there, no inspiration to be had. How can you as a writer be expected to come up with entertaining lies if nothing interesting is happening inside your head? It doesn’t help when all your writer friends are crowing about their new stories or their latest sales on FB and Twitter, and you’re left there wondering what you did to offend the Muse.
Thing is, it happens to the best of us. Sometimes, it’s an issue of brain chemistry, other times it’s a sign that you have been overdoing it just a bit. The best thing you can do in this case is step back from your keyboard, take a deep breath, then get the hell out of Dodge and go do something that is Not Writing. Read a book. Work in your garden. Go for a walk. Have a nice dinner with your SO and/or family. Pick up a cute tattoo artist and have wild sexual adventures whilst on a road trip (okay, I may have borrowed that from Robin Alan’s Cruise Control).
The important thing, however, is that you’re no longer engaged in output. Rather, you are engaged in input, absorbing all kinds of wonderful little bibs and bobs of information, detail, trivia, imagery, whatever, that get lodged in your subconscious and become the building blocks of your next story. This is important because you never know what will spark a story idea, you truly don’t. I once got a fantasy novel entitled Pharaoh of the Lone Star State from being stuck in downtown Dallas traffic (the exact chain of thought went, “Stupid traffic jam, might as well look at the architecture. Man, there are a lot of pyramids in Dallas architecture. Anyone who knew how to use pyramid power would love this place. Oooh, wait…”
This process of input also gives your imagination a chance to take a breather, which it needs once in a while. Writers have to put their imaginations through pretty hefty workouts; just as with physical muscle, that mental muscle needs downtime in order to recuperate and regrow, otherwise it fails on you. Getting away from the computer screen and doing stuff is exactly the kind of relaxation your imagination needs, plus you often wind up with a clean house or a nice weekend with your loved ones as a result.
Once you’re tanned, rested and ready, you’ll find that your writer’s brain has been hovering in the background, greedily sucking up all your new experiences and processing them into your subconscious. And that, my friends, is where the magic happens. You’ll be sitting there, explaining patiently to your cat that you’re hot and tired from doing battle with the Triffids trying to take over your yard and he can’t sit on you right now, and all of a sudden your subconscious will fire a shot across the port bow and you think, “Wait a minute — that thing I read about the Medusa myth on Tumblr! I can use that in my next book! Hell, I can turn that into a major subplot with my characters! Betrayal! Rejection! Death and angst! Rebirth and renewed love! Where’s my keyboard?”
The next thing you know, you’re pounding away, hip-deep in your next story and your cat is looking at you like you’re insane. Or that just may be my cat. In any case, your creativity has been jump-started and you’re working again. So if you find yourself struggling or in a dry spell, for God’s sake don’t fret about it. Go off and treat yourself to some input, even if it’s just a new book or a walk around the block. I promise you, it works wonders.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I really need to get back to work on this story because, you know, Gorgons.