Maybe you're staring at a blank whiteboard, wondering when the plot fairies are going to appear and start making bullet-pointed outlines for you to fill in.
Maybe you're staring at the bland first chapters of a new novel that sounded great when you started it...but after the initial enchantment faded, you're left with a limp rag that seems utterly incapable of transformation into a magic flying carpet.
Maybe you're almost there, with great characters and a tightly woven plot... but it just seems to lack that "spark" that will make it explode across the sky.
Here are 5 tips that have worked for me when it comes to brainstorming, transforming, or injecting adrenaline into a novel:
1. Read outside the box. If all you read is YA, and all you write is YA, your writing probably isn't going to stand out from the crowd. You can't put celery and carrots in a blender and expect cookies and cream milkshakes to come out. You really wanna bring something new and fresh to your genre? Read outside it. Fiction, non-fiction, comic books or coloring books--doesn't really matter. The point is to expand your reading repertoire in order to expand the limits of your own imagination.
2. Watch a documentary. Or three or ten. You'd be amazed at how many ideas can come from something like Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking or Colony: The Endangered World of Bees. Or if you're in the midst of a novel, find documentaries related to your subject. Our world is stuffed with incredible true stories, science, and facts. Learn them. Use them.
3. Read the dictionary. No, really. Do. A single word can carry a host of other words in its shadow. Think of words like redemption, holocaust, or grief. Words like these are almost stories in and of themselves. Get out a thesaurus and explore the vastness of the English language. Go to Visual Thesaurus and get lost in maps of words.
4. Get involved in theater. Call me crazy if you want, but one of the best things that ever happened to my writing was the four years I directed and acted for my college drama club. The experience of body movement, vocalized dialogue, and other actors in conjunction with a written story is wildly invigorating. Even if you have stage fright (to which I would normally say "Get on stage, face your fear, then get over it") you can get involved in other ways like prompting, directing, or just sewing costumes. Theater is a whole lot like writing--only it takes things a couple steps further by actually putting the story into physical action. You'll leave the stage with a new arsenal of writing weapons that will make you see your novel in a whole new way.
5. Live a little. Thoreau said "How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live." Ouch. Get away from your computer, away from your house, and do something. And I don't mean go haunt a bookstore for a few hours--that doesn't count. Live adventurously. Talk to strangers. See new places and try new foods and, as that great sage Dr. Seuss said, "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose... So get on your way!" Let your own life inspire your writing, and it won't just be your book that benefits.
What about you? Have any of these strategies ever worked for you in the past? What are some ways you brainstorm? Please comment--I'm always looking for new things to try! :)