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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Play With the Random

If you don’t know where to start or where to go next in your writing, anything is possible. So there is no reason to not play around with random chance.

Of course, a part of you will think “I can’t throw just anything into my writing. It wouldn’t make sense. It would be stupid.” And by the way, that’s the part of you that has you blocked.

Every idea is stupid at some point. Every idea goes through its awkward stages. Every idea is derivative and unoriginal. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your idea is when you start; it only matters what you do with it. And the only way to do anything is to do something to get started and keep moving.

If you’re willing to mess around with a less than fully formed idea, do the research and the work of drafting and rewriting and rewriting again, you’ll eventually get a piece of writing you can be satisfied with.

If you’re not willing to mess around, research, work and rework your writing, you’ll never write anything you’re satisfied with.

And if you wait until you know exactly which idea will work best and can see exactly what research you need to do and how to write it perfectly the first time, you’ll never start anything.

Any Idea Will Do

Start with whatever you have: what you’re thinking about today, what grabbed your attention in the last 24 hours, what you love, what you hate, what you wonder about. Just start and keep going for 15 minutes. Remember, I’m not suggesting you invest the rest of your life in this random start, just 15 minutes to see what happens.

If you’ve been blocked so long that you can’t recognize what you have to start with or no longer trust yourself to start with what you have, grab something at random. Grab an object in the room you’re in and give it to a character or describe it and it’s significance. Notice the sounds you hear, notice what you smell, see or feel and give one of these sense impressions to a character or describe the experience and reflect on why it matters.

Or grab a random piece of writing to get you started. If you want to write fiction, randomly select a novel or story and flip to a random page. Read a couple of paragraphs and put your own characters a similar situation or in a similar setting. Or give them a similar challenge or a similar person to respond to. Throw in something random and see what happens.

If you want to write nonfiction, randomly select a paragraph of nonfiction. Adopt the theme, topic or issue and write your own thoughts about it. Or adopt the writing technique or style. Or pick one word from each of three different sentences and write a sentence with those three words and use that as your inspiration.

You use this approach with any genre. You can cross genres by selecting a random bit of poetry to inspire fiction or a line of dialogue in a play to spark memoir. Adopt something from random sentences or words.

Surrender Expectations

So what if what you write from this random starter doesn’t fit what you’ve written before? So what if it doesn’t “take you anywhere?” So what if this is someone else’s idea or method?

What you write today doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good. Or relevant. Or original. All it has to be is something you write today.

No one said you had to write anything brilliant today. Just write something. It may show you what’s next for you to write about. If not, you’ve narrowed the field of possibilities of what could come next and you can play with the random again tomorrow.

Writing something will put you in motion and you’re far more likely to discover something interesting when you’re moving.

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