OK, I admit it, I cried at The Lego Movie with my kids last weekend. It might have been a little bit embarrassing at the time, but honestly, it really spoke to me. It reminded me how easy it is for any of us to get possessive, controlling, to want order and to fear chaos. But even if you want to be creative and original, to embrace the madness and the chaos, sometimes it feels like you’re stuck in a rut and being more like President Business than WyldStyle.
Here are my top tips to overcome writer’s block, boost your creativity and generate more original story ideas.
1) Meditation / Daydreaming – The brain is at its most creative when it’s disengaged from external tasks. Whether you get there by meditation or just letting your mind wander as you look out of the window, taking the time out of a busy schedule to do this is vital.
2) Distract Yourself – Many studies find that the act of doing a simple manual task (washing the dishes, pruning the roses) is another great way of encouraging creative ideas to flow.
3) Exercise – Whether it’s a brisk walk or a workout at the gym, exercise both distracts you and clears away those mental cobwebs. And it’s no coincidence that many people say their best ideas come to them in the shower; the warm water makes your body release dopamine just as it does when you’re exercising.
4) Free Writing – This is a great way to get the ideas flowing and as wordsmiths it’s perfect for us writers. You can pick a topic to free write on or just leave it open. The important thing is to set a realistic time limit (at least five minutes) don’t stop, don’t edit, just keep writing.
5) Mind Mapping / Brain-Storming – Like free writing but a bit more visual. Write your key word/subject in the centre of a large blank piece of paper and then draw shoots off for each new thought or idea that is sparked by it. Follow each of those as they in turn lead to new ideas. You might be surprised where you end up!
6) Capture Every Idea – Yes, all of them! However fleeting it seems, get it down on paper or Evernote, or whatever note-taking system you use. You might not know what to do with it now but it could be the key that unlocks a new idea later.
7) Be A Magpie – The more ideas you have, the more stimuli you can draw upon, the better your chances of making interesting connections. Read widely and collect anything that strikes you as interesting; whole articles, a sentence or two, a slogan, a picture.
8) Review Old Notes – If you went to the trouble of capturing it then it resonated with you in some way. Maybe with the passage of time, new experiences and new ideas since then, those old ideas will spark something new or speak to you more clearly.
9) Take Story Ideas For A Walk – Those ‘what ifs’ are what it’s all about, so make sure you don’t dismiss ideas too quickly but go with them and see where they lead. Nicholas Kazan (Matilda) talks about how he goes on this journey: “Often an idea starts with a feeling, or I see a character in the street and he does something interesting, and I start wondering why, and I just follow that wherever it goes. Frequently it goes nowhere, but what happens is that by writing it down, an idea leads to other ideas and sometimes ideas fall together and make a whole. I play for as long as I can. It’s sort of an exploration of the world of the screenplay.” (from The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters)
10) Play In A Different Sandbox – Creativity comes from the intersection of ideas. Sometimes we get a bit stuck in our own narrow world, and it’s good to go and immerse yourself in something totally alien to you.
11) Get Messy – In our very organized adult world, it can feel odd to embrace the chaos, but it’s important to become a child sometimes, to play, to mix things up. Try using pen and paper (even if you normally collect your notes on your computer) because seeing different ideas physically alongside each other enables you to make connections. Make a collage, draw images, scribble notes, draw arrows connecting un-associated things.
And when you’ve discovered a world that fascinates you or a brilliant new ‘what if?’ it’s time to turn that story idea into a polished spec screenplay.
- More Script Angel articles by Hayley McKenzie
- Get a New Story: Are You Really Too Busy to Write?
- Balls of Steel: Balance
- Script Angel: How To Get From Story Idea To Polished Screenplay
Tools to Help: