6 Writing Hacks for When You're Struggling to Create

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I have a confession to make. I find the creative process exhausting. So exhausting, in fact, that I often take advantage of a few writing hacks to keep my life easier and my fingers typing. These hacks serve as reminders that I don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to inventing my fictional narratives. I’m happy to pass them along so that you, too, may find ideas where you least expect them.

  1. Always remember to write about the day something different happened. This is my number one rule to writing. No one wants to read about a day in the life of ordinary existence; we want to read about the day your character woke up and found out that something about his life (or his world) had changed. One of my favorite short stories I ever wrote was about the time a woman went to purchase her favorite lipstick only to find it had been discontinued. The result was a complete psychotic break for my protagonist who then underwent a serious identity crisis. All because her routine had changed. Something different happened.
  2. Steal character traits from people you already know. Our lives are literally filled with interesting casts of characters; why not take advantage of their flaws, their temperaments, their strengths and weaknesses? And you don't have to steal the complete bundle. Instead, I piecemeal character traits from lots of different people I know to create a new, well-rounded character. In my first novel, the two male love interests are based on men I've known in my life. One of the characters is a combination of some of my exes' best qualities while the other is more of a literal representation of a friend I had in high school. When it comes to creating unique characters, I never have to look too far for inspiration. 
  3. Steal settings of places you've been. Like the former hack, utilize the locations in your daily life. Why invent new settings when you can easily pull from places you intimately know? I once needed a grocery backdrop, so instead of making one up, I described in detail a market at which I often shop (I just called it a different name, added a meat counter, and doubled its size). Unless you're writing fantasy or sci-fi, you don't have to create new space if what you need already exists. (And even for fantasy and sci-fi, I'd argue you can still pull inspiration for your other-worlds from the one you live in now.)
  4. Paint a picture from a picture. Sometimes I imagine my characters looking like people I know, or I imagine them looking like the celebrities who would play them in the film version of my novel. So when I go to write their physical features, I pull up a photograph of that person (famous or not) and I describe what I see. I take note of any unique physical characteristics (e.g., freckles, moles, scars, hair color, face shape) and I make sure to include them in the story. Those details make your characters seem real. I once envisioned a character as a certain famous English actor, so when it came time to describe his physical attributes, I combed through online pictures of him to make sure I got his features just right. And no one ever knew. Your audience never has to know your character is wearing someone else's face.
  5. Keep conflict on each page. If you find yourself in a writing rut, ask yourself, "What is my character up against on this page?" It doesn't always have to be an epic struggle (and it shouldn't be), but on each page he should face some kind of conflict, big or small. I find my manuscript gets the most stale (and slow and boring) when I lose sight of all the things keeping my character from reaching his goal. When in doubt, introduce more conflict. Things can never get too dire for your character. Conflict makes for compelling stories. And the greater the conflict, the greater the achievement (or the tragedy) at the end.
  6. When you come to a dead end in your writing and you literally have no creative juices flowing, take a walk. I've always found a bout of exercise and fresh air help me in sorting out my ideas or introducing new ones. Need a new character? Go to your local coffee shop or mall or airport and find him. People watch. Eavesdrop. Take notes. Always be on the lookout for someone who will ignite that spark of an idea, that moment when you think to yourself, "What's his story?"