1. Kara

    Honestly, I can relate to that. Little vignettes of ideas but nothing that I can even consider spinning into a seriously large work.

    But then I remembered that I used to quite enjoy writing short stories (and indeed, LOVE reading them, often far more than novels, plays, etc).

    Some of the most powerful and impactful short stories I’ve ever read have been VERY short (1-3 pages).

    So maybe just write paragraphs for now? (that’s what I’m planning to do). Don’t necessarily assume you have to fill pages (when freewriting or other), but focus on creating a tiny, beautiful nugget of words that from a word::effect ratio knock most (if not all) novels out of the park.

    Just my $0.02

  2. Here’s what I think, after remembering some Anne Lamott I read a while back: keep all those little snippets and elements on note cards or something. Then, think of a person. Compulsively stalk that person in your head. See where they go, what they’re doing, what movies they see at the theatre and who they develop crushes on in the coffee shop. Write down all that stuff. If a snippet fits, add that in too. Then write about the people this person knows. Don’t demand that your writing/stalking turns into a story, but be devoted to your characters. Do that for a few months, then see what happens. Maybe it’ll be a novel, maybe it’ll spark an “idea” for something else. Finally, don’t despair. Honor your creativity, regardless of how small or fleeting it might feel.

  3. Elissa

    Ok, here’s what I think. Don’t be sad, Mel! I’m a writer and often I only start with a snippet or an idea. I just write that. I wrote my first (crappy) novel, all because I thought of one line. The first line, I decided, since it was the only line. Then I wrote a whole book! It was bad, but still, it existed. The next (less crappy) novel I wrote also just started from a scrap of an idea. I like fairy tales. That was the whole idea. And I just started writing. And it out it came. And it sucked less! And I talked to people, and brainstormed, and it became stronger. I don’t have tons of ideas like some lucky writers, but I have a few. And that’s enough. I make a living writing. And so can you.

  4. I wonder if the issue here is genre. I used to tool around with short story ideas and beginnings to novels, because that’s what I felt like writers did. But it always felt forced, stilted, and I got bored halfway through. Finally I realised: I’m a nonfiction writer! That’s why I love reading essays and magazines so much. (I know, duh.) Now the only time I’m short on ideas is when I’ve done a lot of writing and am burned out. But they always come back and scatter my room and desk in coloured post-its.

    Also, writing prompts and all that stuff? Morning pages? UGH. I just want to write what I feel passionate about writing, and those types of exercises never inspire me, just make me feel frustrated. But it’s OK not to do them!

    Or maybe it’s about self-censorship? Perhaps a class would help, or daily blogging — something where you have to get the words out and not worry too much about polishing them.(Remember Mel, first drafts have to be terrible. It’s practically the law.)

  5. dgm

    I’m thinking Mel sounds like she has songwriter potential. I’m not one myself, but I have friends who are songwriters who have described the process as having a snippet of an idea around which they base their craft.

    It also sounds like maybe her genre could be creative nonfiction/essay writing. Finally, what about flash fiction (possibly not though, since Mel said she has trouble thinking up stories)?

  6. Jennifer

    Maybe she’s not a FICTION writer. Maybe she’s working in the wrong medium.

    Now, I am sure I am a writer, but like everyone else who is one, I assumed I was a fiction one. I did NaNoWriMo from 2001-2011. I have been in writer’s groups. I have taken creative writing classes. Blah blah blah.

    But you know what? I am…not that great at fiction writing. All the characters sound like me. My plots aren’t remotely as awesome as the books I read. I can write dialogue great (I’ve vaguely pondered screenwriting, but I suspect I’d be really irritated having to depend on so many people to make my work go) and that’s about it. I feel awful saying that I suck at this compared to a fellow I know who churned out a 100,000 page novel that the entire writing group could not stand to read (he actually got kicked out of writing group after a year because he was just. not. improving). I’m better than that. I have more potential than that. But… that still doesn’t mean I’m good at fiction.

    I am not a person who blooms with burgeoning fiction plots in the first place. It took me a long time to realize that. For most of my years of NaNo I had about ONE fiction plot I’d been diddling with in my head all year, I’d write that, then it would suck after I got it down on page, and I couldn’t stomach working on it any more after the month was up. I lost all interest, it was ABC gum. For the last few years of NaNo, I really haven’t had any fiction plots in my head at all. I wrote up whatever shitty idea I had in my head and it was even worse than usual. This year I just flat out did nonfiction even though that’s a no-no. People who are meant to write novels HAVE IDEAS. I listen to the StoryWonk podcasts and it sounds like those people have ideas all the time! People who aren’t having fiction ideas…probably aren’t meant to write novels.

    This is where I’d suggest that you try nonfiction writing. Write down the observations that you have on a daily basis that you had wanted to turn into stories, but don’t turn them into fictional stories. Think of the time your car broke down or your aunt did something stupid at the holiday party and write down what happened. Think along the lines of David Sedaris: random observations of life that eventually play out into a different kind of story. See if that works better for you.

    As for me, I liked writing nonfiction, but I still run into the same problem of “once I got all my ideas out on the first draft, I have zero interest in rechewing the gum while I rewrite and edit draft after that.” I do well at short essays and newspaper articles and blogging, but frankly, I may not be cut out to be ANY kind of book writer if I can’t remotely get interested in heavy-duty long term editing. That makes me sadder than not being a fiction writer, actually. But…people who want to write books DO have that long term drive to rewrite and re-edit as far as I can tell, and I just don’t.

    *shrug* Some of us are just meant to piddle along and not be writing artists, I guess. Sad but true.

  7. Chris

    Maybe creative nonfiction is the way to go. Start with the big story as it exists and start adding your own elements.

    I’m a historian and writing history is about construction not creativity. The story is out there, I just have to find it and put it into the right order. Adding a fictional element would probably make it that much better.

    I feel your pain, Mel. I can pump out fifty pages on a history project without thinking but getting five pages of fiction is turtore because it is ALL ON ME.

  8. Kate

    I’m with the others who say “try non-fiction.” And Pamie’s line about loving reading so much you feel like you should write hits very close to home for me. I’m someone who has always had my nose in a book and who knew she’d end up in writing/editing by the end of 5th grade (I had a magical teacher), but I’m gradually accepting that journalism is indeed where I’m destined to stay. I just don’t think I have any fiction in me! It’s depressing because I wish I could join with the authors who have given me so much joy over the years, but so it goes. I’m good at what I do. I’m efficient and quick and I get it done. Maybe one day inspiration will strike and I’ll suddenly write the juvenile fiction I’ve always dreamed of, but if not…Good thing there are lots of people out there with brains overflowing with ideas!

  9. Kim W.

    Mel –

    If you’re still checking in now and then, maybe you just need to take care of some other things in your life right now.

    I also was having this exact same problem, where there were literally no ideas in my head, for about a year and a half. And it was freaking me out. I’d come up with some things now and then – I took a writing class at one point and if the teacher said “write about [schmeh] I could rock out an essay about [schmeh] no problem – but the rest of the time, I’d just…not have anything to say.

    However, for this same year and a half I was also trying to get over an UNBELIEVABLY COLOSSAL amount of stress and sleep loss triggered by a whole chain of sequentially sucky events coming one after the other (job loss, pet death, breakup, personal injury, all in the same 2-and-a-half year period). This August, I decided to take one of those weeks of vacation time I had and use to literally stay home doing nothing — I could sleep as late as I wanted, I wake up and only do what I felt like doing, and if “what I felt like doing” was nothing more than “sit on my ass eating ice cream and watching LIFETIME movies,” I was not allowed to feel guilty.

    Two weeks later, I started getting ideas for writing again.

    Sometimes a lack of ideas like that, especially when you usually have them and suddenly you don’t, may be a sign that you just need a break. So take it.

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