Category Archives: Writing about writing

Cool Things to Write About™

My favorite writing exercise of all time is from Ray Bradbury, in Zen in the Art of Writing. It’s very simple: you generate a list of nouns, conjured from your life experiences, as if they were titles. Bradbury always did this exercise in all-caps, and so do I; it makes the results feel more title-like, therefore conjuring sensations rather than simply specific images. How ominous does THE BLACKENED TRUCK sound? How mysterious is THE GEM SHOP?

If this sounds intriguing, I highly recommend reading the entirety of Zen for yourself!

Despite all of the genius ideas locked away in those childhood nouns, I was recently very, very stuck. To call it writer’s block would be putting it mildly; it was more like writer’s constipation, a time of deep drought. I was sure I’d never come up with another good, heartfelt idea ever again.

So one day, I threw up my hands and put a twist on Bradbury’s exercise. And it worked. It got me past my mental block.

I call it Cool Things to Write About™.

It’s a self-explanatory exercise: You sit down with a piece of paper. You write “Cool Things to Write About™” at the top of the page. Underneath, you list cool things to write about.

Not cool as in people around the world love reading about these things cool. Cool to you. Cool because little you, the still-excited nerd child inside you, thinks they’re wicked cool. Thinks they’ll always be cool. Guess what? They are. To you. That’s all that matters. If you think it’s cool, I promise, there’s a way to sell it.

Don’t hold back. Write everything down that comes to mind as you stare at the title. When you’re done, the list of Cool Things to Write About™ should start to stir up your inspiration. Consider them in pairs. Contemplate the connections between them, the potential energy they bring to one another.

Dinosaurs and telepathy? Charmed objects and sailing into the unknown? Alien planets and practical magic?

Can’t you feel the possibilities already?

Everything I know, I learned from talking animal stories

Dramatic, right? But ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you it’s accurate. Many of my literary models of heroism and virtue were people who ran on four legs, not two. Even now, I can’t get away from writing talking animals (case in point: my novel Daugment).

Looking critically at which childhood stories have stuck with me, I’ve found several other reasons why a talking animal makes an incredibly powerful storytelling tool.

Talking animals allow the reader to practice empathy for radically different perspectives. I often re-read Watership Down because of how deftly Adams makes me care about the very rabbit-centric plight of his rabbit characters. And yet – it’s a very humanizing story, every reading of which reveals more layered nuance about our stewardship of the Earth, our treatment of marginalized people, and our own personal heroic journeys.

Complex concepts can become subconsciously absorbed, thanks to the inherent simplification of animal characters. Author Clare Bell (of The Named series) used prehistoric cats and primates to illustrate consider the implications of civilization and technology. The fierce, impulsive hunter nature of cats and the meeker disposition of monkeys allowed her to pare away the complexity of social explorations and address them in a bare, simple way that I could understand even as a young reader.

Traits worth emulating are easier to identify and understand through animals. A non-human character is automatically “other,” and so to portray them as being defined by some positive or negative trait still felt honest (I was and am very sensitive to disingenuous prose). Talking animal characters, like Martin the Warrior of Brian Jacques’s Redwall series, can be nuanced but still defined by their leadership, compassion, selflessness, sacrifice, perseverance… I saw the behaviors in these characters that added up to those traits, and found it simple to understand what those traits were, what it meant to embody them, and how I could emulate them.

Animals free you up to write with less risk. I can choose an animal for its stereotypical characteristics and assign it traits of a friend or family member – and process what I needed to process without fear they would identify themselves in an opossum or a dragon. By transforming the people in my life into creatures, I hold them at a slight distance in my stories, and am able to gain perspective on both my own feelings and the other person’s behavior.

Today, I still find ways to sneak talking animals into my stories. Daugment is all about a man-turned-dog, and I decided Pitney would become a beagle-basset because I wanted him to face the inherent indignity in becoming a “bagel hound.” Without touching any human stereotypes, I’m able to use the power of stereotypes to set up some crucial details early on.

Interested in some quality talking animal stories? I highly recommend the books mentioned in this post, as well as Avi’s Dimwood Forest series, The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West by Mary Stanton, and Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing series. (I’ll write up a complete list of my talking animal story recommendations later this summer!)

Writerguilt

writerguilt, n. the intense feeling of failure and existential doubt that occurs when words are not being applied to pages

Writerguilt is the nagging feeling that the world is waiting for your words. Writerguilt is also self-indulgent. Breaking news: The only person waiting for you to write is you.

But someone’s waiting on me! I hear you insisting. Fine, sure. Deadlines are real things. But editors, agents, and publishing companies work with writers who produce. Readers want to read, well, books that actually exist. Spend your time despairing, and you’ll have nothing to show for it except a steaming pile of intangible angst.

As it turns out, writerguilt is very, very easy. It’s certainly easier than slogging through a thick research book, or crafting yet another post about how you’ve been absent from blogging but “oh this time I’m back, with a vengeance!” Or any of the thousands of other ways you might practice the craft of writing.

My theory is that we writers revel in writerguilt because feeling guilty about not writing is an activity mutually exclusive to writing. And if there’s one thing writers can agree on about writing, it’s the sincere and professional practice of avoiding it.

When I indulge, my own writerguilt takes on the form of a question wrought with existential agony: how can I possibly know which project is right to focus on next? As I’ve gotten older, the sharp edges of this quandary have been honed by the acquisition of knowledge. These days, I know all too well the myriad ways I might make the wrong decision.

At age 10, I had a very particular way of dealing with my writerguilt. I kept an inventory of works in progress, and I coded a random generator so I could select my stories one at a time and dedicate a tiny block of time to each.

Those five-minute writing sprints added a few sentences or mere words to each document. But I was making progress. On everything. Decisions be damned.

Trick thyself into creativity is my creator’s motto these days. It’s a nod to the irritating ingenuity I displayed 18 years ago: By deciding not to decide, I made a decision anyway—the decision to write. To produce. To put something down, even if it was just a single line.

At least that’s one more line than I’d had five minutes earlier. And eventually it adds up to a book.

I know the writers reading this are also afflicted by writerguilt. It comes and goes, and contrary to expectation, not in the inverse of inspiration. When guilt and ideas hit at the same time, the storm of despair can be monumental. You can really spin your wheels trying to decide which project will be a bigger hit with your audience, or bring in more passive income, or…whatever your Big Project Questions may be.

If you’re wrestling with writerguilt, do something for me, right now. Pick something you’re working on (randomly, if you have to). Open it up. Set a five-minute timer. Write at least one word. It’ll be one more word than you had before. Maybe it’ll alleviate your writerguilt, just a smidgeon.

The only way off this hamster wheel is to make a decision and write.

Cooking and writing

I’m extremely lucky to be married to a former chef who catered for sitting presidents. Yes, I certainly get all of the consumption benefits of having a chef under my roof — but more importantly, I get a world-class firsthand education in how to food.

I haven’t just learned “how to make a dish that tastes good.” That’s actually pretty simple: Follow a good recipe. What I’ve really learned is how food behaves. What the system of food is like. The science of food, the art and craft of choosing proportions for desired results. I’ve always known what good food tastes like, but now I know why.

This systematic knowledge took me from following recipes step by careful step in 2013 to freestyling it with substitutions and eliminations as the whim seizes me today. It’s also allowed me to develop a distinct style — I’ve come to love certain combinations of ingredients, and increased my ability to experiment within those flavor profiles.

I’ve gone through a similar transformation in my writing, too, though inversely. I used to freestyle too much; I’d sit down with a first line or a vague notion and punch out a few pages of something unstructured and full of interesting frayed ends.

Ultimately, those weren’t stories that held up under much scrutiny. I’d bore of them and wonder why I couldn’t finish anything.

In the last few years, in addition to the “writing about writing” books I’ve always read, I started scrutinizing good stories in all forms of media, and studying writers’ systems of crafting plots and characters. This has given me the vocabulary for my instinctual sense of how to story.

Now I can flip through a draft I wrote a few months before and not only spot the holes, but name them, and understand how to find fixes for them. I’m no master of fiction, but I’m a much more confident writer than I used to be.

The ingredients, the proportions of a good story — these are things I know when I meet because I’ve been a voracious reader for so long. But now I understand them and have the toolbox at my disposal to fix them in my own works.

Such is the magic of learning how to cook.

The Parentheses Process

I love details. They’re sort of the hallmark of my style, especially in my short stories — I choose very specific but arbitrary details, putting down broad strokes about a world I hardly know yet. I’ll describe how the clay coins of the realm feel in one’s hand, for example. Or the name and earthy smell of the new-fangled liquor everyone in the land is addicted to.

But sometimes, instead of getting caught up in exactly what I should call the god-leader figurehead role of a nomadic ice planet society, I need to crank out the skeleton of a scene. I can’t always afford to stop and get lost in random generator land. So instead of agonizing over a detail and allowing it to slow my roll, I use what my producer/hub calls “the Parentheses Process.”

In reality, I don’t use parentheses, I use curly braces. {These ones.} They make it easy for me to use Ctrl+F (the Find function) and track down all the places I left blanks without running into false positives, since I sometimes actually use parentheses. But whatever. Parentheses Process is catchy-ish.

I used the heck out of this method while I was working on my novel Daugment. I didn’t know much about Daugment when I started the book, other than the main character being a human-turned-dog, so I ended up leaving a lot of world-building details unspecified as I went along. Or, I would specify them, later remember that I’d made a decision but not what that decision had been, and then just put the general idea in brackets so I could come back to it later and cross-reference to my heart’s content, once I was wearing my editor’s hat.

The Parentheses Process is especially useful for NaNoWriMo and other speed-writing scenarios. If you’re trying to crank out an essay, wrap up your manuscript in a couple of weeks, or complete the first draft of a novel in a single month, stepping away from the details is a must. Plus, this method strengthens your stories and your world-building skills by letting the details percolate in your mind as your world and plot unfold in a more structured way.

Yes, even “pantsers” who don’t outline will benefit from leaving some things until the end. The brain naturally tends to make loose ends click into a neat package, if you let it sit idle on the problem long enough. Thanks to the fact that brains like patterns, yours will passively work to sort things out and make connections where you may not have seen them at first brush.

The basic premise of the Parentheses Process is, if you can’t come up with it nearly immediately, put it in brackets and move on.

Your goal should always be to get through the first draft as fast as you can. Even if the first draft is really a “zero draft,” just a few sentences that sketches out what you’re going for, you benefit from having something to work with rather than nothing at all.

It’s how you eliminate the fear of the blank page. Know that this is something I spent fifteen years of denying, despite reading all of those trusty books about writing, wherein every author ever coaxed me to get the first draft down quickly…

But I digress. Here are some examples of the Parentheses Process in action.

“{Something inspirational and foreshadowy!}” Leyla cried, one edge of her blade gleaming in the low-slung sun.

Dialogue isn’t easy. If you can’t hear it in your head yet, you may just not know your character well enough. That’s totally reasonable! Put it in brackets and move on.

He picked up the gleaming {swordthingname}.

Well, crap, you know you named that sword-thing in an earlier paragraph, but it’s at least four pages back, and you’re kind of on a roll… Put it in brackets and move on.

Their eyes met over the candle. Hers gleamed, and his answered with a mischievous twinkle.

{Cute thing that becomes an inside joke}

They were full of wine and sleepy, and even the promise of more kisses couldn’t keep them awake. They fell asleep with their arms around one another, their clothes disheveled in an innocent, sleepy way.

Sometimes you have a general idea of what needs to happen in order to make a plot point down the road feasible… But you don’t have any experience with that kind of scene and you’d like to read or watch a bit of research material. Put it in brackets and move on.

Fair game in the Parentheses Process:

  • World-building details you already selected*
  • Lines of dialogue
  • Names you haven’t chosen yet
  • Physical characteristics
  • Emotional content
  • Portions of scenes
  • Entire chapters
  • Literally anything

*Pay special attention to those details you feel the need to look up over and over — such as names of places, people and things; character continuity details; and timelines. If you need to reference stuff regularly, you may want to develop a system for yourself so you can easily reference it again.

If you’re anything like me as a writer, you want to make sure you get worldbuilding details absolutely straight. Especially if you know you wrote something down already, whether it was in your meticulous notes or your messy draft, you shouldn’t stop your writing flow to hunt it down! Getting out your first draft should always be more important than the details. That’s what editors are for. You should know this. Consider this a gentle love-whap. First drafts first.

The Parentheses Process is all about ensuring you stay in your flow when you find it. The most important rule is: Give yourself just enough to know what you meant later, and move on quickly to maintain your momentum.

(Another rule: Be consistent. If you use {curly braces,} stick with ’em. If you use [square brackets,] stick with those. Otherwise you’ll find your Ctrl+F process is much harder than it needs to be.)

The Parentheses Process eliminates a huge excuse that many writers rely on to keep from actually producing — research. Yes, research is absolutely key to a successful project. Yes, you can and should have research phases in your writing process…just not in the middle of your writing time. Random generators and web searches are just an excuse not to write, most of the time.

The biggest secret to my success is that I know now, the writing portion of the process should be satisfying. I try to exploit this fact by using the Parentheses Process to jump to the stuff I’m interested in writing right now.

If there’s something you’re excited to write about or want to get out of your head, jump to it. Jot down any notes or thoughts you don’t want to forget in brackets {like these}. Then get to where you want to be!

That’s it. That’s the whole Parentheses Process. It’s how you get through drafts, and fast. It’s how you plow through all those little distractions that add up to writer’s block. It’s how you identify details about your characters and world that are important to write down somewhere else for future reference. (Planning on turning your stand-alone novel into a series? Better hope you’ve kept track of the stuff that’ll matter for the next book and beyond!)

The Parentheses Process is not the same as “not knowing what happens” — i.e. not plotting your story or series. This method shouldn’t be used in place of outlines. At the very least, even if you’re a true “pantser,” you should have some vague notion of what your character’s motivation and goals are.

However, used in tandem with an outline, loose or otherwise, the Parentheses Process lets your brain work its magic. It will find patterns if you tell it, “Look, brain, I know what needs to happen, just not how it happens.” It’s likely that your story world already has a way for that plot point to not only be feasible, but probable. You may just not have unearthed it yet.

Put it in brackets and move on.

Why Daugment is free for libraries

Thanks to Smashwords’ super cool distribution plans to Axis360, OverDrive, and now bibliotecha (as well as their Library Direct program), my novel Daugment is available for free to libraries. I could charge for it, but…first of all, that seems horribly mean, and second of all, I have three good reasons for making it free.

The altruistic reason: Libraries and librarians are awesome.

Several of my good friends are librarians, and of course, avid readers themselves. They help people every day find information on how to improve their lives and their knowledge bases. Pretty dang cool. Plus, I spent I can’t tell you how many hours in libraries as a kid, gleaning information on forbidden topics from books I didn’t dare take home. I feel like I’m paying it forward.

The sneaky reason: I commission weird covers. People will take chances on weird books…when they’re free.

Almost every bizarre book I’ve ended up adoring, I read first from the library. Once I was old enough to earn a little money from babysitting, I began to invest in my own book collection and I’ve never stopped – but I rarely buy something I don’t already know I love.

People make snap judgments about covers all the time. Here’s a question anyone in a bookstore or browsing an online catalog will ask themselves: “Is this cover worth $5? $2? $0.99?” Usually, the answer is an easy, “No.” But if the question is instead, “Is this cover worth 10 minutes of my idle curiosity?” the answer is more often, “Why the heck not!”

If my book’s at a library, it’s already free for the customer. Making it free for the libraries gets it into a lot more libraries.

The marketing reason: To find my future readers.

Every single piece of advice on ebook marketing I’ve read advises giving away a book, or a story at the very least, to get readers’ email addresses and attention. While I plan to run promotions as well, Making Daugment free for libraries allows me to give away books passively and reach readers I would never have otherwise found.

Even if I run really savvy social media campaigns, I can’t easily target niche readers. These are people whose tastes might not usually overlap with the keywords I use to promote my book, but who visit small-town libraries. Smaller libraries may have more modest budgets, meaning the librarians may turn to the free section of the ebook catalog in order to give their patrons more for the money they have.

If you’re a librarian, and can’t seem to find Daugment through the ebook channels you use, please contact me so I can get you as many copies as you’d like!

The Scribblers’ Club

As part of my creative philosophy, I try to participate every year in at least one big generative project, at the end of which I have something to shop around or develop. (I’m also a masochistic writer.) A lot of years, that project is NaNoWriMo. In 2012 and 2013, my good friend Jill Corddry and I teamed up to crank out short stories on a regular basis (almost weekly, in 2012, and monthly in 2013).

We took a couple of years off – she had twins and I got a heck of a job (same thing, right?!) – but our hiatus is over, and this year, we lassoed two of our other friends and dragged them with us. We call the project The Scribblers’ Club, and we’ve each promised to write one short story per month for the next twelve months, with a few appearances scattered throughout by guest writers. We’ve already done it at least once each, which is miraculous in and of itself. Eleven more stories to go (for me). No big deal. (If you like sad paranormal stories, my first one is called “Wanting”.)

The Scribblers exist because of our motto: “Trick thyself into creativity.” We made deadlines that feel a little bit like those school assignments we used to have. We found people to send us clever notes and evil writer quotes. We found that those same people hold us to our promises through guilt and sickly-sweet encouragement. We force ourselves into artificial boxes to see how our creativity shoves its way out of them. Most of all, we keep in mind that quantity produces quality.

More than any other tactic, this cooperative-but-not-collaborative approach to writing groups has really worked for me. I do love actually collaborating on writing, but even in a hyper-connected age, it can be hard when writers with very different ways of writing books try to write a book together. Having others set standards of success in the same little arena we’ve drawn out together is encouraging, inspiring, and makes me feel bad if I don’t turn in my story on time.

So. Back to tricking myself I go!

15 ways to use random generators

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: I love random generators. I have since I was nine or ten and writing my first code – for a random generator. I made it make funny sentences. It was stupid and useless and amazing.

Since then, I’ve used them as an integral part of my writing process. Writer’s block has no place in a world with random generators. You might use dice, a coin, or Seventh Sanctum’s academic magical realm generator – it’s all the same to me. Use the power of random to break past your writing blocks in one of these fifteen ways. (And check out each link – I’ve found more than 15 great generators for your bookmarking enjoyment.)

1. Take the next step.

Getting stuck happens at all stages of a project: before you’ve written a word, after you’ve jotted down notes, or when you hit 70% completion. There are lots of ways to blast past it, but here’s a simple one: use a random word generator like watchout4snakes to let someone else (or something, rather) write the next word for you. It might make no sense in context, but at least it won’t be your fault. Rinse and repeat until you’re back in the groove.

2. Think outside the box.

Another way to combat stuck-ness is to go spinning off in a wildly different direction. A generator of words big and small can give you a truly random element that your brain can nomnomnom to crap out fresh material, when forced to fit this into your existing piece.

Bonus challenge: Don’t change anything about the generator’s output. Try to get it in there untouched. Not sure how you’re going to talk about coding or suppered in your essay about your child’s first steps? Too bad.

3. Ask, “What if?”

Random generators can help you ask interesting “what-if” questions. Say you’re stuck trying to figure out what your protagonist is going to do next after waking up. Using a random word generator, you might ask yourself, “What if he realized he was in a digital world?” then “What if he was in a digital media that he recognized, like his favorite TV show?” then “What if his reality started to overlap with his favorite TV show?!” As you can see, you probably wouldn’t have gone off in an alternate reality direction with this story, but it’s one path past your writer’s block.

If you haven’t started your project yet, what-if questions can help you hunt down a concept worth writing about. Seventh Sanctum offers a what-if generator that proposes questions about well-known historical and literary figures, for one angle on this tactic.

4. Present an alternative.

Maybe you’ve got to solve a character’s very specific problem, like how to get her birth certificate out of her evil brother’s safe, because your original idea (breaking in with lockpicking skills) just doesn’t feel right. This is where “what-ifs” aren’t enough and you need to turn to the “what-if-instead” question.

Go back to that random word generator and use its output to propose what-if-instead questions: “What if instead, she used gasoline to start a fire that made him panic and unlock the safe?” or “What if instead of stealing her own identity back, she stole his identity and got out of the country on credit?” Let the words swirl around and knock up against your problem until you find a solution.

5. Jump away.

There’s that weird phenomenon where staring at a star makes it seem dimmer than looking at it sideways; the same can often be said of breaking past a block on a project. Come at your writer’s block sideways by working on a different project entirely. A random generator can get you thinking about something else far removed from what you’re stuck on.

I’ve found one of the best ways to get out of a serious project’s funk is to write something totally goofy. Here’s one very silly – yet intriguing – story generator from StoryWonk to get you started. I can’t wait to pick up a copy of your novel about a good-natured Elvis impersonator with an ancient amulet.

6. Introduce someone new.

A story isn’t really a story until there’s conflict, and your story could need more friction – in the form of a brand new character (also known as a victim the author hasn’t met yet). Take the fake character generator for a spin. It uses details like zodiac signs, personal web addresses, and vehicle type to flesh out a virtually-constructed stranger, who you can drop right into your tale with a motivation.

In fact, here comes Sebhat Petros, that dang structural metal fitter who works at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour in Pittsburgh and wants nothing more than to reunite with a mysterious sales executive. Boom. Conflict.

7. Change a name.

You always kind of know when a character isn’t quite right. There’s something about them that doesn’t ring true – maybe it’s their name. Using your instincts, and a few choice keywords or cultural selections on a random generator like Behind the Name’s, select a brand new moniker for the offending character.

Don’t like the sound of “Sammy” for your battle-hardened lieutenant with the dark past? Benjamin Caetano sounds like he’s a little softer on the inside than he’d like you to know. Or possibly Sammy is short for Samuli, which he’d die if his squadron found out. As they grow into the sound or the meaning of it, you could find yourself seeing throughlines in your character’s story that you’d totally missed before.

8. Provide a fresh perspective.

So you’ve got your narrator, and they’re reliable (or not), and you’ll probably keep writing this piece from their perspective. But what if you…didn’t? Use a random character generator, like any on Seventh Sanctum’s generous list, to spit out a being or two you whose outlook on life might throw a new light on your tale. A funny assassin, maybe, or a half-nymph necromancer.

Even if you don’t end up using it in the final work, looking at your story or setting through the eyes of a different kind of character can really change what kind of story you end up telling (see this essay on the movie Zootopia for a compelling example).

9. Spark your imagination.

Writers of speculative fiction don’t really need excuses to worldbuild, but a random planet generator can bring fresh territory into play (literally) for a story gone stale. Instead of taking place on Earth, set your story on Ellerkin Major, home of the Ellurians, nomadic reptiles with pale skin and four eyes. Imagine the kinds of spaceships they’d need…

Or introduce a new villain straight out of Chaotic Shiny’s monster generator. Your protagonist will have a hell of a time fighting off a human-sized, ethereal, rodent-like beast named Brad. Keep what you want, discard what you don’t, and keep on writin’.

10. Give it a title.

Not sure where to start? Throw a randomly generated title at the top of a blank page. You can probably imagine where The Crow and the Mirror or The Supreme Toad might lead you.

That’s the easy version of this tactic, though; the super exciting advanced version challenges you to rename something you’ve already started, or giving a random name to something you’d planned on carefully entitling. Try this book title generator, which takes a genre and generates some vague titles that sound just cliché enough to exist already – like Heirs of Sorrow or Signs in the Catacombs.

11. Provide visual stimuli.

I use Flickr for my story research, usually by typing “portraits” and browsing faces until I find one that fits my character, but it’s also got a great random feature: the “Explore interesting photos of the last seven days” page. Click “RELOAD!” until you’ve found a picture that compels you to write its story, or add its setting or contents to your existing project, and you’re off and away.

12. Pick a topic.

Sure, sure, write what you know – the adage isn’t wrong. But I take real joy in getting to research the heck out of a subject when I’m planning to write what I don’t know (because I’m a details nerd). When you’re hoping to think outside the box to find a topic, but obviously don’t know what you don’t know, Wikipedia’s random article function can kick-start your brainstorming.

How about the tale of the first supernatural student at ISF Waterloo? Or an investigative essay about the fate of Pewabic Pottery‘s most famous works? You get the picture.

13. Introduce a new conflict.

This is also known as the “suddenly” tactic. Using random generators like the attitude generator, conflict generator, or the sticky situation generator, introduce a new problematic element into your project.

Let’s say your detective protagonist and her sidekick are on a cruise ship and need to kill some time before, well, the villain kills the victim. Instead of just having them wander around, make it so that suddenly, woman vs. nature flares up in the guise of a terrible storm, and the sidekick’s nautical training from her grandfather kicks in. Or suddenly, your heroine meets a charming man who will swindle her, perhaps out of a secret she can’t afford to tell. Or, suddenly, your sidekick becomes doubtful towards the heroine, due to her friends, and is stubborn about it, and you’ve got inter-character conflict to spice things up until the body is found and they have to set aside their differences to solve the crime.

14. Feed someone else an idea.

Writers usually know other writers, and most writers are always sniffing around for new ideas. If one of your writerly acquaintances is in need of a conceptual seed (ew?),  give Seventh Sanctum’s random generator random generator a whirl. Your friend will think you’re a creative genius! (Meanwhile, you’re hoarding the best the generators have to offer, and giving them the so-so ideas. I mean, who cares about Omni Team Diamond Five anyway?)

15. Choose one or the other.

So you’ve exhausted all other options, and you’re still stuck. Narrow your next move down to two choices, then flip a coin (real or Random.org) to choose one. No take-backsies! You have to go with it. That’s the point of setting the challenge.

I hope I’ve made it clear how much random generators can add to your writing process, and that I haven’t overwhelmed you with so many ideas that you don’t know which one to pick. (My answer to you, if that’s where you’re at? Put your ideas in the list randomizer and OBEY THE RANDOM.)

May all your moments of writer’s block become moments of weird and wacky inspiration instead!