The Renegade Writer

Are You Pushing Away Ideas — and Work — by Trying Too Hard?

By Linda Formichelli

I recently had a mentoring client (who I love…you know I love you, lady!) who told me she’d been thinking about a particular article idea for a week. She’d been to a gift shop in a small town that drew hundreds of visitors every weekend, which is pretty amazing. How could she turn that into an article?

She turned this idea every which way with no success…and it was driving her nuts not to be able to use it!

I’ve seen this a lot: Writers who find an idea and hang onto it like a dog hangs onto a bone. Are you one of them?

Focus on the input, not the output.

My secret to boosting creativity has been to focus on the input, not the output. So, for example, I read widely and try to have different, interesting experiences.

You need to feed your brain so that it has something to work with. If you have enough different input, you’ll come up with inspired combinations.

For example, I was checking out magazine headlines and noticed that certain women’s magazines always had either “diet” or “orgasm” on the cover (or both). I noted this with interest and then let it go, and later it popped into my head: How about an article called “The Better Orgasm Diet,” on foods that boost your libido?

The idea sold to Redbook, and a news station later did a story based on this article.

Go wide, not deep.

in my recent post on what to do with an idea once you have it, I talked about taking one idea and spinning it in different ways to come up with salable angles. This is a great way to take something meh and turn it into a sale.

But if you’re the type of writer who obsesses over coming up with just the right slant, you may want to try going wide instead of deep.

By that I mean, instead of focusing all your attention on one idea and using brute force to spin angles out of it, take in as much information as you can from varied sources and let your subconscious do the work. Again, it’s all about the input.

The image I have of these stuck writers is of them being surrounded by a cloud of great ideas, but having laser-like focus that illuminates only a tiny sliver of the cloud.

Want to go wide? Read magazines from a different part of the newsstand than you normally browse. Pick up a graphic novel (I recommend the Bakuman series). Watch YouTube videos and click on the links for recommended watching.

Don’t worry about gleaning ideas from these sources. Just take them in and let your subconscious do the work.

Take the easy route.

I told my client that she needs to find a sense of ease in her work…which is something my own life coach taught me.

If things happen only with great strain on your part, then you need to find a new way to work. Grasping, straining, and attaching only make your writing work difficult.

What comes easy for you in terms of writing? How can you do more of that and less of what you find difficult? After all, if something is easy for you, you can do more of it faster…the perfect way to earn more as a writer (or in any career).

Be playful.

I asked my client to find ways to become more playful in her work. For example, she plans to buy the classic Whack on the Side of the Head creativity card deck, which offers different exercises to help you get unstuck.

She could also try those old tricks you’ve probably heard of but never tried: brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, take a different route home from work, and so on.

This is all about giving your mind permission to wander and play. It’s during these unstuck moments that inspiration tends to blossom.

How about you: what do you do when you feel stuck on some aspect of your writing career? Let us know in the comments below! [lf]

photo by: adihrespati

Nov 15, 2012 Advice, Ideas

27 Responses

  1. Ros says:

    What became of her idea?

  2. I’d strongly recommend that your client try mindmapping. This is the best way I know to tap into the deep and creative unconscious. I resisted doing mindmapping for years because it sounded too damn easy to me. And, yes, it IS really easy to do. But it’s also incredibly productive. You can read more about it here:
    http://bit.ly/HHN5gb

  3. Erica says:

    I recently took up crochet and have found that when I’m at my most stuck, it helps. Just sitting still, doing single stitches (nothing too complicated) and having a notebook at my side unlocks more creativity than almost any other exercise I’ve tried. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas and cleared my mind of self-defeating cobwebs while working on my crochet.

    This may sound silly, but it’s also been a tangible lesson in the value of practice, persistence and the importance of following directions.

    Next, I’ll check out that mindmapping link. Thanks Daphne! (And thanks Linda for the awesome article, again.)

    • What a wonderful idea! I guess that’s why it’s good to have a hobby. I don’t have one myself except for reading, but my husband and I area out to become DIY home renovators. I think that will be a great way to fe my mind from work occasionally to help boost my creativity. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Lisa says:

    Love this — especially the advice to do what comes easily. That’s what I’m working on right now! I’m trying to figure out (by trial and error) where my best investment is as a writer. It’s an exciting exercise!

  5. Patti says:

    This post came at the right time for me. I’ve been struggling with a story now for a week, turning it over and over in my mind trying to find the exact right approach. Thanks for the tips. I especially like the advice to be more playful. Sometimes writing for a living becomes more work than play, and we need to remind ourselves that it can still be fun!

    • Glad the post helped! I’d put that idea aside for a little while. I know it’s hard, but your inspirational breakthrough will probably come faster than if you hung onto the idea trying desperately to make it work! :)

  6. Theresa says:

    Linda, spot on! Maybe your client and I are twins and don’t know it. I tend to try to “get to THE spot” which leaves me frustrated (and unproductive).

    I do know what I’m excellent at… but it’s also the field where yes I’ll keep working, yet I need to go in other directions, too.

    My son suggested thinking about what I was good at – and then I remembered (from the Den) that the client that seems the most unlikely is likely to be your (best?) client.

    Ah, the dual-edge sword to writing (or a writer’s mind and the blocks we put up).

    So I’m running with your suggestion. Our brains are super computers. They will process anything we put to them until out pops the answer. Even if it’s at 3 a.m.

    Thanks again!

    • Glad you found my post helpful! It is all about doing what comes easy for you…and if something is a big struggle, trying to find a way to make it NOT a struggle. You can outsource practically anything you find you hate doing!

  7. anne grant says:

    You know that game where you say a word and the next person says another related word?
    Eggs-bacon-pork-chops-hatchet-wood-log-pecan (it always goes back to food.)
    Doing that in my head for a few minutes disconnects the jumble of thoughts that block the flow of creativity.
    Thanks for the reminder that no matter how perfect some things seem, they may not be a good fit right then…maybe later.
    “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
    -William Faulkner

  8. Ali says:

    When I’m stuck on an idea, I leave it for a while and work on something else… or just take a walk, preferably to a strange place… and, usually, when I come back to it, I am able to find a way out.

  9. Great timing… I’m staring at sites I want to query and finding myself unable to get past my ego/fear/block..whatever.. to come up with good ideas. Or I think all the good ideas have already been created. I know i need to refocus or step back, but it can be hard. And what I realized, reading this, is that I might not be taking enough time and letting creativity flow.

    • Y’know what…all of the good ideas HAVE been done. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. But editors have seen it all, so your job is to find new slants on old ideas. Check out the recent post I did on “what to do with an idea once you have it.” And dont freak…you can do it! Just push through the discomfort and make it happen. :)

  10. Linda says:

    I really like your comments about the importance of input. It’s easy to focus only on producing usable material, and forget about feeding your brain with new stimulation.

  11. Tom Marin says:

    Great little article here, with indespensable advice! Thanks a lot Linda, we all appreciate it!

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  13. Chryselle says:

    Timely post, Linda! I’m stuck with a great (in my opinion) story idea which I’ve pitched to a few places, but no bites. I’m fussing “can these editors not see how unusual this is?!) but apparently, not. I’m working on other things putting this one on the backburner, but am worried that the story will be too old soon. Oh well.

    Will try mindmapping tonight and see if that leads anywhere :)

  14. Chryselle says:

    Missed a closed quote there.

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