I have seen a few posts going around about people struggling with writing, the act of putting words on a page or a lack of creativity and an inability to generate ideas. The daydreamer who is a perfectionist and wants so desperately to write but can't. I am one of those, people often will say you're just lazy or you are simply in love with the idea of being a writer but do not wish to put in the work. Yes, that is true, however, some of you may have issues with focusing on a task, or become swiftly overwhelmed by the amount of information that you become obsessed with wanting to know everything about the craft that you forget all about writing your stories. Mental health plays a part I'm sure.
I myself suffer from depression & anxiety, have to have a diagnosis for ADHD soon, alongside being a perfectionist who has a complete fear of failure. Makes writing tough. I get it, but I wanted to share some things that I have read or come up with that really helped through it.
The first thing I can say is that you really need to let go of that fear of failing, my gosh the greatest thing I did for myself was to admit that I am going to suck, my writing will suck. My stories will not be as good as those Authors I love. Second is that the best experience will come from the multitude of failures that you will have. Failure has become such a 'bad' word, it is a part of life which is to be embraced. My teachers and peers at school even from a young age destroyed my hopes of writing and I spiralled into depression and gave up reading and writing, I didn't do as well as I should have at school due to mental illness but that lingering itch of wanting to write my own stories never left me.
Now at 26, I am a complete beginner, I have re-learn things such as grammar in more detail, I was forced to acknowledge that I am not as good as I think I am, I am not as good as I want to be… Yet, that is the most important thing. You are going to improve, you are capable of achieving. You will get to where you want your writing to be but you need to write, you need to fail. You need to look at your work and work out the areas where you struggle and the best way is to analyse your own work and get feedback. My gosh this community and that of fantasywriters are so happy to give critiques on work, out of their own time and love of writing and helping all of us grow as writers.
I truly believe that everyone can get to a specific level, right just like in everything there is always someone who is better than you, you need to accept it. I am a guitarist, when I started I could not play a single chord, my fingers ached, they couldn't stretch to reach the correct fret or I couldn't press down hard enough to have the note sound. But I wanted to play that chord, so I kept attempting to reach it. For a week every day for about an hour, I would attempt to finger that chord, I did. When I did I knew now that all the rest of the chords that I can't play has nothing to do with me being unable to do so, it's simply a matter f not putting the amount of time needed to do it. People only see the end result, never the time we put into the achieving of it. We can all increase our physical speed but we probably won't beat Mr Bolt.
Some of the things I wish to talk about are: Importance of Goals, Ideas, Beauty of Simplicity and starting small, writing exercises, overload of information, how much worldbuilding etc. A lot of writers on here are going have discussed issues here I'm sure in a previous post but even so even an amateurs insight can be helpful… hopefully. Let's start.
Coming up with Ideas
For me personally, I am always coming up with ideas for stories, 100% is fantasy orientated so apologies to any who dislike that genre. I think one of the biggest roadblocks in generating ideas comes down to complexity, I feel from my own experience that many new writers want thier stories to be as big and complex as thier favourite authors. That could be on the level of political intrigue found in A Song of Ice and Fire, or wanting your story to embody deep meaningful themes about life, people etc. You want a completely original idea that no one else has done before well the truth is everything has been done before the only thing which will be original is the execution, details and characters. Every story can be summed down into a few sentences. Fantasy is writhing with thieves, mercenaries, deposed monarchs. Revenge stories, love stories all have a few key foundations which depth is added to.
The two main areas where I get my ideas from are:
- Books, Games, Films
What if? That I believe is the biggest asset we have for creating ideas, ask yourself What if this historical event happened in the opposite way? What if the world was flat? What if the moon was home to xenophobic Astro-Spiders with a particular fascination for the game of cricket?
You can not fail to go wrong with looking at history, our world is filled with so many hilarious, tragic and wonderful histories of which you can use in your ideas. The Macht trilogy by Paul Kearney is one of my all time favourite series, but it is quite literally a fantasy retelling of Xenophon's Anabasis and Alexander the Great, There are even real-life place names, Alexander married a Persian women named Roxanna, in this our Alexander Character named Corvus married a Princess of that region called Roshana so you have similarities there. There is a battle where the field is the same name as the actual battle where Alexander fought and defeated Darius. Use history, it's one of our great friends.
When it comes to books, films or video games, how many of us (I presume a vast majority) have read something that was super cool and got inspired? There is nothing wrong with incorporating, ideas from other works. There is a difference from being inspired and flat out plagiarising, We have all read a book which has elements we can clearly see was inspired by the work of Tolkien? The fact that Dwarves are great craftsmen and live in mountains, or elves in most mythologies are cruel, small and honestly nasty little buggers. But Tolkien made them more human, elegant etc and I don't think I have read many fantasy books with elves where they are two feet tall and give you nightmares.
I find a lot of passages, or even sentences within others work that really generates an idea.
When I say I am always coming up with ideas it is not meant as a gloat, I just ask myself What if?.
I love simple, I also love complexity but for those who struggle to actually write a word down creating complex stories often never get further than one's mind. We can become overwhelmed by the idea that we need to craft a world full of details, histories and rich cultures. Or that our stories need to have a contrived theme and meaning. What if our stories do not show us an aspect of humanity then it's not something of worth. But what happened to just enjoying the simple tales? If you want to write a story about the worlds fastest swimmer racing a dolphin just do it. It's not meant to change the world or make us realise something about myself, I'll stick to my therapist for that 😛 but it's fun, I'd read it.
The other thing is that there is nothing wrong with looking at how to books, I had no idea at how the craft of writing worked and how stories are structured and that in itself is fascinating. I love watching videos and reading books of story structure but for some, it gets to the point where we become obsessed with the idea that we need to know all this information to create this perfect story. If you are not writing then these books aren't going to help you and just make you feel worse.
If you are just getting started I really do recommend starting with shorter works, flash, short stories, novelettes & novellas. You could create a 1,500 word story a day, you can write bad ones and gain vital experience from them. Have them critiqued and find out areas where you struggle, and thus use the next short you write to work on that area. You could spend a year writing a novel and not knowing any areas you need for improvement. You could write 365 stories in a year, or 52 for one a week. I believe if you are right at the beginning then quantity is more important than quality, as the quality of your work will be building up from all the previous stories and all the feedback you get. And you SHOULD seek feedback, I have already mentioned how wonderful these writing subs are. Use them, as writers (You are a writer, even if you haven't started yet. Descartes tells us to) we all share a love of stories, we want stories, we want to write our own stories and there is always someone who is looking for that book you are writing.
Onto stories, I have dozens of those how-to books and just like mentioned before I became obsessed with the perfect structure that I never wrote my ideas. So I decided to scrap that, I found that all I need is:
- A Character
- A Problem
- An Antagonist (external, internal or both)
- Know how the story is going to end (Do they overcome the problem?)
Then I create the premise, just sum the story up in one to three sentences. And I mine the Premise for information, about character, setting, plot elements etc. Then I fill out a bit of information on character, scenes etc. I like to keep a beginning, middle or end. I completely scratch the idea of deciding on a theme or the idea my character needs to change. (Half the time that happens naturally as you write). For instance, I wanted to write a short story about a man tasked with fighting a troll, this was just for fun and get me writing but I found the idea a little flat and asked myself what may be might be more exciting? So I thought what if I switched perspectives, the story if from the Trolls point of view. I liked that, so then I created a premise/
>A troll Uglak is being forced by a group of rather nasty militiamen to harass merchants travelling along the road into the town and taking their money, the troll eventually overcomes them.
That's it, nothing much but I mined for a few details, obviously, this troll seems like a meek fellow, as a troll surely he must be stronger than these humans so why is he being used in this manner? Then I did a little worldbuilding about the trolls, I decided I wanted trolls to be big and strong and generally considered ugly but are simple creatures, they aren't violent but rather are very gentle and kind but humans because they are different only see their monstrous appearance and see them as a threat, trolls live a long time but mate for life. This troll particular is lonely because when he was a little Trollite he witnessed the only other group of trolls being killed (Oh there's the backstory appearing) so he assumes he's the only one left. He wants companionship and hopes that he can kindle friendships with humanity thus leading to an event in which he met these militiamen, in my mind they must have found out that this troll isn't a threat, they see how timid he is and realise they can use him, force him to act as the evil perception humanity has of him to make money. I already know that I want him to overcome them, so naturally, I have this theme of finding the courage to stand up for yourself, it was preconceived and came about because of the story and character. Of course, you can go on an add more information, detail etc.
I am sure that it might sound like a crap story, but the point is that by just using simple tricks you can build up depth and find themes in your stories without actively trying to put one in. People love to analyse, or find a meaning and the truth is people will place a meaning onto your work that appeals to them if they want to. We might identify clear themes or messages which are clearly placed there because that is what the author wants but we may also sense a message that isn't intended by the author. A painter might paint a beautiful seascape but with slightly muted colours. In this painting a lone ship heading for the horizon. Some might get a feeling of sadness, loneliness etc common feelings people get from blue however for me I see blue alongside yellow as a hopeful colour. So I might look at that same image and see an image of hope, that the ship sailing into the horizon as one of a new beginning, a better future. When in reality the author just looked out their window saw a nice seaside and thought I'll paint a picture of that and stick a ship in it. But our two interpretations are not wrong and both valid.
- If you are a pantser a fun exercise I like to do is the _Story Builder_, I love reading the 50 word stories on fantasywriters and thought that would make for a great exercise. So I would take a word, let's say courage. I would write a 50 word tale related to that word, often with most I re-read it and boom I have a little more to add so now I add 50 more words. Re-read and try to extend it to 100, 250, 500 words then 1,000 & 2,500 you get the idea. The previous words might inspire more detail about the tale you are writing and thus you are writing more.
- The three-paragraph exercise, this one stems from the previous one. I choose three paragraphs in reference to the beginning, middle and end. The goal is to create a story with a conflict, perhaps a choice, the climax and resolution. Generally, in the first, I will introduce the character, problem. The inciting incident might appear in the first or early second paragraph. The middle might have a failure and then a choice. The third is the climax and resolution. You can even add more, I like odd numbers. Generally choose 3, 5, 7 then 12 (Merely because I like the ways you can divide it up… I'm odd) You can use a central theme to help find an idea (Like choosing the word clouds etc)
Work out where you need improvement, description? Characterization? Setting a tone? how to foreshadow? Once you know that you can do specific exercises to improve it. Write a page describing a character, do it in a first and third person pov. If you struggle with a character voice, take two opposite personality traits and create a scene with dialogue that will portray those traits. I am sure many other more experienced writers can help think of ideas for exercises.
I like to analyse short stories, look at how they structure scenes, paragraphs. What information can we get about a character from how they acted in this scene of from how the spoke? How are their sentences structured? long, short? Use of verbs, nouns, adverbs? etc. How did they increase or decrease the pacing? This moment was pretty tense how did they achieve it? or wow this was a surprise ending I wonder if they foreshadowed it earlier? So now we can go back and look for how they did it and see how we can do a similar thing.
Another exercise I like to do is re-write a flash fiction or short story from another perspective, maybe from the antagonists, but in my retelling, they aren't so bad and give a valid reason for while they might be doing this thing.
How Much World Building?
Less is more, but more is fun. You don't need to go to the lengths of Tolkien to create a living, breathing world for your story. Don't think you need to create languages, a dozen cultures and a 500-page historical supplement to your story. Most people don't care, sure they like some info on the world to immerse themselves in but if it isn't relevant to the story does it matter?
Look at your favourite fantasy, take a chapter and read it, make a note of any specific detail which details aspects of the world. Practices, societal and cultural things, history etc and write them down. You'll be surprised at how little you have, a whole books world building that is _shown_ to us in the narrative may only fill up a single A4 page when listed. But they may have hundreds of pages of worldbuilding. The fact is we only need to know a minimum. Sometimes a small detail is planted which might imply a greater depth.
If your character is a priest, show a few religious practices. A prayer to a specific god, briefly mentions another temple who priests worship another god and give idk a sentence about the god. We will know that this is polytheistic religion etc. The point that is enough to add flavour without listing the Gods, Spheres and how they formed the world from an intergalactic marshmallow.
Goals are super important, but they need to be specific. Don't tell yourself tomorrow I am going to write a story. No. Instead, say Starting tomorrow I want to create a 5,000 word story, 1st day I will create the idea and characters. Then I will write each following day from 8pm to 10pm and aim for 1,500 words. So the story must be completed by the fifth day. The sixth day I can revise and on the seventh show it on Reddit and ask for a critique.
Of course dream big, I am sure we all wish to be published writers and writing full time. But you need smaller goals, what do you want to achieve in three months? six, a year? It doesn't matter how small or silly they may seem they are important. For me, I want to have submitted three short stories to an online publication and have one published. That probably seems like a small goal for most but for me it's massive. Nothing beats a sense of achievement, like beating the Taurus Demon after 50 tries and realising Dark Souls is easy, then you encounter Ornstein and Smough and be like oh damn.
Anyway, I know this is probably just a ramble, if you can get a little something from it then I am glad. Otherwise please comment with any ideas you have.
Here are a few resources I really enjoyed reading/watching.
The Positive Trait, Negative Trait and Emotions Thesaurus