What to Write When Nothing Comes

bored_by_publicdomainpictures.netMaybe you’ve been lucky and never drawn a blank when sitting down to write. But if you’re like me, you’ve sat. And sat. And looked up prompts. And doodled. And refreshed your coffee. Or tea. Or water. Or whiskey. You’ve told yourself, “Go!” then stared numbly at the screen. So you surfed the net, checked and deleted email. Answered the phone. Did the dishes. Dreamed up fanciful and creative menus for your family that you’ll never make. And decided to go to bed early (or late).

And promised yourself that tomorrow you’ll be able to get something down. trick_by_publicdomainreview.org

If this is sounding a little too familiar, I have a trick that helps when you find yourself thinking, “I have nothing to write about.” I’m going to describe it as it relates to poetry, but it could be used with any genre. I have found that when I’m stuck with nothing for my fiction, writing poetry can help shake things loose.

Okay, ready for the trick? Here it is:

Write the opposite.

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “What? This gal has really lost it. Write the opposite of what?!

Let me explain…

Take a poem – any poem. It can be one you’ve written, it can be a classic, it can be one you love, or one you hate. Go through it line by line and write the opposite of whatever the sentiment is in that line.

Here’s an example using Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken:”

woods_by_publicdomain


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both ….

To write the opposite, I could do something like this:

woods2_by_publicdomain
In the purpled woods, two roads collided 

and glad was I to find the path so clear ….

That is an off-the-cuff example that could use (a lot) of work. Regardless, it demonstrates what I mean. At least I hope it does!

To complete the exercise, I would go through every line. If all of sudden in the middle of this task something sparks and I’m inspired, I might drop the exercise and run with my new idea. If not, I’d keep at it, line by line. Then revise and make changes, look for better words and better imagery.

And at the end of the day, I’ll have a poem. At the very least, I’ll have made good use of the day and worked my creative muscles. Writing the opposite it harder than it sounds. It forces you to be creative, look for ways to describe emotions, places, and people. And it can result in some phenomenal poetry!

Don’t believe me? Give it a try! And let me know what you think.

I’m curious – what do you do when the muse is silent? I’d love to hear other tips and tricks! 

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13 Comments Add yours

  1. DMGbyrnes says:

    I know the feeling you describe all too well….that being said, this is a fantastic idea, Kat! I really do love this idea and am absolutely going to try it some time. The fact that, even if what you’re typing isn’t the story you intended to write, it gets you going; what you don’t want to say is already written, but the outline for what you want to say is there, the skeleton as it were, it’s just in a mirror. (sorry if that doesn’t make any sense, but it fits in my head, haha) Thank you so much for this post, Kat!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kat says:

      You are so welcome! I hope you try it – I’ve had good luck with “tricks” like this that force me to be creative. Plus it is super fun! And can even be funny! Having the ‘skeleton’ there for you to fill in and dress up as you like makes it easier to get the pen moving across the paper – definitely.
      Good luck!
      Kat

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This speaks to me… not just because it is in English and I read English really will or anything…. (lol) but to be honest, I have had such a dry spell and it is killing me! Thanks for sharing! 😀

    Like

    1. Kat says:

      Steph, I hope this helps with the dry spell! Been there for sure!!
      Good luck beating away that writer’s block!
      Kat

      Like

  3. Just write. It sounds simple but it’s often the most difficult thing to do. Every successful author has his or her own bag of tricks. The one consistent tool I’ve noted with all is to sit down every day and write. I have a journal of writing prompts. When I feel sluggish, or my head isn’t on straight, or life is weighing me down, it’s easier to go to something like brainstorming or prompts. It gets me unstuck. I like your idea because it also helps to jog the brain into the creative AND analytic mode at the same time. Literary critique usually helped me to write creatively when in college. I wrote copious stories and poems after studying Hemingway, Faulkner, Shakespeare, contemporary short stories and poetry. it’s a great way to get the blood pumping!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kat says:

      Yes, I agree! The habit of daily writing is so important. It’s frustrating when you want to write something specific and nothing comes. That’s when, as you say, exercises are helpful. I sometimes just write, “This is the opening. I don’t know what to write but there’s this woman….” and start explaining my idea as if I were talking to a writing friend.

      Literary critique works for me, too. I sometimes get an idea from another piece.

      Great thoughts, Kim!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. S.K. Lamont says:

    Excellent post Kat, and a very interesting idea, write the opposite, I shall definitely have to try that out! One of the things that gets my engine going is visual clues, I try not to give my mind a second to think that it doesn’t know what to write, so I allow whatever is in my environment to spark off an idea and I run with it. A cardinal out the window, a car that drives by, a dirty sock on the floor, whatever—then boom! Off my story goes, I see it, then my character does and we’re off running again. The visual clue might not make the final cut but I use it as a springboard to start up my story engine again if it’s slowing down or it has stopped altogether. Thank you for this excellent idea!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kat says:

      SK, that’s a wonderful way to get the juices flowing! When I taught creative writing to middle and high school girls, I used to use printed images and give them a set time to freewrite based on the image. It was amazing what they came up with! Thank you for the reminder to use visual clues to ignite the writing process!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. James Stack says:

    I keep lists of various ideas that I think might make a good poem or short story. When I reach a point where I want to start something new, I go to those lists. That doesn’t mean I won’t procrastinate for hours and even days, but I at least have some ideas on which I could work. Of course, I am 64 years old (“will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greeting, bottle of wine” – thank you Paul & John & George & Ringo) so there are many things that have passed through my life that I can draw upon. I suppose I’m fortunate that way.

    With that said, the only time I find I’m staring at the computer screen is when I’m editing, and I can’t seem to either change or delete or add what needs to be done. So, yes, at those times (note it is plural) I get up and do anything but write – sometimes that works for me. Other times it simply takes time staring at the screen before something comes to mind.

    We all have our cross to bear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kat says:

      Love that list idea! I have a notebook, but I’ve been bothered by the lack of ease finding things in it. A straightforward list is just what I need. Thank you for the idea!

      Ahhh… editing stagnation. Yes. It can be so hard to figure out how to make a change without feeling like you’re killing the essence of the sentence/essay/chapter/story.

      Thanks for your comments – very helpful!

      Like

  6. Thank you! I found this extremely helpful as I’ve been stuck in a rut lately.

    Like

    1. Opps, I didn’t mean to post this as a comment on a comment…just shows you the state of my brain right now haha

      Like

    2. Kat says:

      Glad it was helpful! I’ve been MIA lately (from both the web and writing) because we moved and the creative well is a bit dry. I’m going to be putting this into practice BC I know it works to get the wheels turning. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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