Saul Aguilar's picture
Saul Aguilar from Tucson, AZ is reading Waking Up February 17, 2013 - 6:11pm

I've been trying to become a writer for a couple years now. But it's been really difficult so far because I'm still learning about what inspires me to write, and more importantly, how I write. It seems that my inspiration comes about once every three months. And that's not good enough.

I'm not trying to get published or make a million dollars (yet)--I just want to be good. I'd even settle for decent. 

And many of the great authors have preached the power of routine when you want to get good. So I've been doing more to provide myself with an opportunity to succeed by scheduling time to write. Except, when I sit down to write, I'm stumped. 

So my question is this:

What do you write when you don't know what to write? When you're not actively engaged in a project, what do you write to keep your chops up? If you write "anything," how do you know that what you're writing is helping you get better? Or are you just ingraining bad habits?

I've had this question for quite some time, so I figured I'd ask you all, the experts. 

Thanks for reading.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest February 17, 2013 - 7:05pm

Hi saul... Haven't seen you around, so welcome. My hope is that some of what I say here will help.

You've got the first, and in my opinion, most important part of writing: setting a time each day to write. Say you like to write in the evening, set a time, maybe six or seven. But, instead of setting a time frame, set a word count. Start off small, maybe 500 words. It could take you thirty minutes to get 500 words, or two hours. The idea is to get words on the page. If you say 'I'm going to write for two hours,' you may sit there for two hours and only get three words written. You've gained nothing.

As for inspiration, read. Read. Read. Read. Can't stress that enough. Writers are voracious readers. Read your novels, short stories or whatever you like to read as if it were a textbook. Study it. What I'll do is read a book for fun, then go back and study it. I'll make notes in it, underline things, highlight and note the things I don't like. If you're interested in short stories, read those. Look at how the authors develope characters, plot and structure in a limited amount of words. Read books in your favorite genre. I write noir, so I read a shit ton of noir, pulp and mysteries. Read your favorite authors, over and over again. Read as many of their books as you can. What interests you? Write about it. There's a saying that goes, 'write the book/story you'd want to read.'  Start off writing for yourself. You'll only find out what works for you when you write. I'd highly recommend joining the workshop. Even if you don't have anything yet to submit, get in there and review. Read reviews from other writers. Don't be afraid to review. There's a great intro to reviewing thread. Check that out. Ask questions. If you see a review that you like, PM the person and ask how and what they did. You can just say, 'Hey, this is my first review, so bear with me. I'm still learning.' No one here will chastise you. We're all here to help each other. Watch movies. I glean a lot of inspiration from watching movies. Watch movies in the genre you like. Like sci-fi? Watch some sci-fi movies. Horror? Mystery? Drama? Whatever you like, watch and read it. But, also read some stories outside of your preferred genre. These can be of great help, too. And, it seems counter productive, but find some bad books. This will teach you what not to do, and sometimes those can be the most important lessons.

Getting started can be frustrating, but push through it. Sometimes it'll take me fifteen, twenty minutes before anything comes to me, but when it does, before long I'm in the zone. Try free writing. Sometimes I'll do something like:

I'm writing. What am I writing about. A man. What's he doing. He's making soup. Why's he making soup? He's going to poison somebody. Who's he poisoning? His brother. Why?

I'll continue on like this until something comes to me and next thing I know I've got the beginnings of a story. Sometimes coming up with a title will help. This works well for me. A lot of times I'll have a title before I even know what the story is about. The title will give me insight to what the story is about. You can open a book to a random page, pick a random sentence, write it out and go from there.

To sum up, just write. No matter what, just write. Try different POV's and tenses. First person present comes easy to me, so 99% of my stories are written that way. Maybe 3rd person past is easy for you. You'll never know unless you try them.

Like I said, we're all here to help each other, so don't be afraid to ask questions. PM other writers if you have specific questions. We'll get back to you. Find writers on here that write in your preferred genre and shoot them a message. I believe there's a bit of difference in each genre. Jump in and get your feet wet. Hope this helps you in some way.


Carly Berg's picture
Carly Berg from USA is reading Story Prompts That Work by Carly Berg is now available at Amazon February 17, 2013 - 7:57pm

Here are a few ways that have worked for me when I was out of ideas:

Prompts are good. If you google "writing prompts" you'll find lots of them. Photo prompts are fun, too. I like to look around and pick the prompt I like, though, much better than being stuck with just one that was assigned by someone else.

Also, I have had good luck picking out a song I like and writing from that, listening to it over and over while I write it. My story often has nothing to do with the song by the time I get done, but who cares, I got a story out of it, right?

Another way I've used is reading or skimming stories of the type I like to write. Not to copy, of course, but just for ideas. Often reading a story gives me an idea for another story, and there, too, by the time I get done, mine is nothing like theirs.

And then there's looking at themed calls from magazines and anthologies. Those can make really good prompts because they come with a deadline and a place to send it when you're done, which makes it lots more fun. I find them by clicking on the "calender" tab at the top on, but now you have to pay for Duotrope, $5 a month or something like that. However, if you want to send lots of stories out, definitely worth it. Here are just a few that end at the end of February, I believe.:

Here's the big contest going on at this site:


Another contest from this site, a 25 word story:


A flash fiction call from an paying ezine (ends in a couple of days):


Another short themed one for February, 100 words


Here's another micro-fiction one, a a photo prompt e-zine:


...And one more


That's all I can think of right now. Good luck.


Saul Aguilar's picture
Saul Aguilar from Tucson, AZ is reading Waking Up February 18, 2013 - 2:53pm

You both are wonderful. Thank you for all the insight, wisdom, and advice. I can't wait to try these new strategies, and maybe even enter a contest.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer February 18, 2013 - 3:38pm

When I have nothing else, I try one of two things. First, I get out a book of poetry, pick a random poem, and look for a line out of context that I find interesting. Then I just start writing about it. Not a story, just what I think about the words and what they could mean. When an idea forms, I go with it.

A similar thing I will do is pick a noun and start writing about it in the same way.

Something always comes up. I never let lack of ideas stop me from writing when I feel like writing.