We've all stared at a blank screen or page unsure what to write next. For me, it's hardest if I'm starting a new novel and I'm out of ideas. Or I'm having trouble choosing which of my novel ideas to write about.
The concept of setting your ideas on the back burner to let them simmer can help.
Doing so does 3 things:
- Frees your creative mind by lowering stress
- Keeps you from getting stuck
- Uses your time well (especially if you're also working at another job or career)
Less Stressed And More Creative
The concept of putting ideas on the metaphorical back burner isn't original to me.
I got it from Don't Sweat The Small Stuff and It's All Small Stuff: Simple Ways To Keep The Little Things From Taking Over Your Life. In that book, the author suggests that rather than racking your brain about a problem that makes you feel anxious, you should imagine setting it on the back burner of your mind to simmer.
That's because often the more you struggle for a solution, the more you reinforce anxiety rather than shifting your mindset to making things better.
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If you relax and let go of the problem, though, your unconscious mind is free to come up with creative answers.
In the same way, allowing ourselves to set aside concerns about finding the right idea frees our unconscious minds to sort through possibilities, make connections, and come up with entirely new thoughts.
Ones we never would have imagined if we sat staring at the blank screen.
On Time, On Schedule, And Unstuck
I'm a great believer in sticking to a writing schedule. That means if I carved out time to write, I do it whether I feel inspired or not.
If I'm not sure where to go next with my novel, though, or how to get it started, wracking my brain at the scheduled time doesn't usually help. So instead I imagine putting whatever part of my novel I'm struggling with on the back burner and turn to something else.
The something else could be a different writing project.
Maybe a short story a poem, or a chapter in nonfiction book. Ideally it's something I can easily pick up and put down.
If I really need to make progress on the novel to meet a deadline, though, I focus on a different part of it.
For example, let's say I'm stuck on the big picture idea for the next novel in my Q.C. Davis series. (The first one involved whether Quille's boyfriend committed suicide or was murdered. The second featured neighbors stuck in an apartment complex during a blizzard with a killer. The third relates to a self-help organization that has cult-like aspects.)
Right now I'm uncertain of the basic premise of the fourth book, but I can still make progress.
I might write about a new character I want to bring into the series. Or think about aspects of Chicago to highlight that haven't been in previous books. (One that will likely appear in Book 4 is the number of buildings that have multiple entrances and exits, allowing someone who knows them well to evade a pursuer.)
Writing about any of those points keeps me moving forward while leaving my unconscious mind to figure out who will be murdered and what the backdrop for story will be.
In this way, I'm more apt to stick to my writing schedule, reinforce my writing habit, and avoid getting stuck.
Using Your “Other” Work Time
The back burner concept also ensures that when you are working at another job or profession (or handling some other responsibility) you're still writing.
That's because even if your mind is completely absorbed in a non-writing task, your unconscious mind can imagine scenes, sort through plots, or generate completely new novel ideas.
You can help this process along by taking as little as five minutes before you start your day to choose a part of your novel to let simmer. Within a few days or a week new ideas or decisions will almost certainly pop into your mind.
When that happens it not only helps you make progress, it gets you more excited about your novel.
That's all for today. Until next Friday —
L. M. Lilly
P.S. For more on lowering stress and improving creativity, you may want to check out my book Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life. Available in workbook and ebook editions.