I wanted to take a moment to address an issue that I run into nearly every time I am coming close to finishing a short story. Whenever I am nearing the corner on a piece of short fiction, I start wondering if I have another idea to start working on.
It’s a form of panic. I still believe that I may one day run out of ideas and not have anything to write. What would I do? Would I make things up on the fly? Would I just stop writing?
These questions always seem to rear their head when I’m about to wrap something up. I think it’s fair anxiety. I would imagine many people end up dealing with it at some point. I mean how far does the creative well go? Do some people have an endless abyss to pull from or are some of limited in our ideas?
I really don’t know and I think it can be scary to not know where your next idea is coming from.
However, there are some practices that can help us to get through these moments of panic. At least, there are some things that I do that I think could be useful for others. Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert. Nor do I think that these ideas will work for everyone. They’ve helped me. Maybe they can help you.
First, I keep a notebook of scribbled ideas and I, occasionally, take some time to write out a list of story ideas that I would like to write at some point.
It’s important to recognize that this is not my queue of stories. I don’t know that I will write them all and I certainly won’t write them in the order that they are listed. In fact, I think making these lists is more an exercise than it is of actually valuable story ideas. It allows me to engage my creativity and to try to dig up old ideas that I may not have thought about in awhile. Are they good or worth exploring further? Maybe. Maybe not. I find it valuable to revisit them every so often.
I’m also someone who will remember something if I physically write it down. Typing gets me no where. The act of pencil to paper cements things in my mind. I think it allows me to keep all those ideas locked away in my head and, sometimes, those ideas emerge with new details. Sometimes, things I read trigger these old ideas and, suddenly, I have a way to tell the story that would be compelling and exciting.
When I’m panicking, I often look back at these lists to see if it will shake something loose. It doesn’t always work. And I have pulled storied from these lists, written them, and found them to be nonpunishable. That’s okay. We write to learn and grow. A bad story is a lesson, not a failure.
The second thing feels more like magic to me than advice.
As you may know if you read this blog, I write almost every day. Recently, I’ve been writing more than usual. I have something longer than I’m working on along with stories. So, I’ve been putting down 1,000 to 1,200 words a day (for reference, I try to do at least 250-500 words per day). I’ve been doing that type of work for nearly a year. I’ve written regularly before, but that was for graduate school assignments, not creative work. So, I’ve developed a great deal of practice.
I also read pretty heavily. My reading schedule differs. There are days that I don’t want to pick up a book. There are other days where I can read a whole novel in a couple of days. Overall, I feel like it balances out and I end up reading a lot of material. Since the start of 2020, I’ve read 13 books. That number is lower than where I would like to be, but I have other things to do.
Anyway, I detail this because I don’t want you to think that what I am about to say is magic. It’s not. There’s a lot of hard work involved with writing.
That said, whenever I start panicking about the next story, I tend to find another idea pops into my head without prompting. And, at times, it feels like I’ve been gifted an idea from the gods or the muse or whatever.
But that’s not true. When I’m reading or writing or watching things, ideas pop into my head. Sometimes, I give them time and think them over. Sometimes, I let them pass by. But the good ideas tend to pop back up when I’m trying to figure out the next story and I usually end up writing the idea that comes up.
This weird magic did not just happen. I’ve not been gifted with anything. I’m very certain that the amount of time I’ve spent writing and reading has provided me with a lot of ideas that I may or may not be fully cognizant of having developed. I often read something, see a particular scene, and begin thinking how I could turn that concept into a story. But I quickly drop it an keep reading. I think those thoughts end up buried somewhere and then pop back out when needed.
Again, I don’t think that comes naturally (at least not for everyone). I think it takes a lot of work and time.
Anyway, I don’t know how you deal with your panic. But I hope that you always find stories to write.