The range of obstacles writers face with their writing projects never fails to surprise me. Here are two that some of my writing students have faced and a few ways that could help you get beyond that perky problem.
What if you have too many ideas and can’t figure out how to narrow them down to just one project to pursue?
My best suggestion for this problem is to pick the idea you’re most passionate about. The one that claims your attention and emotions. The one you find yourself thinking about every day, and even as you make your way to the fridge in your pajamas late at night. The story you feel no one else can tell as well as you—not because you’re a brilliant writer, but because you experienced the actual events and they left an indelible mark on you. The one that’s embedded itself in your mind and in your very cells.
Why pick that one, the one you’re most passionate about? Because you’ll be more motivated to write it. That type of story has presence, weight. It makes itself felt. It won’t leave you alone. You’ll be able to invest more energy and focus on it. And it’s more likely to pour out of you with little struggle. When I wrote “My Mother’s Money,” (not yet submitted for publication) it was because the story wouldn’t leave me alone. It was in my mind for years. I knew that in writing it I would get relief, but also, as is often the case with memoir or personal essays, that writing it would enable me to sort out some long-lasting personal and family issues and mysteries.
You can also choose to write about a humorous incident, especially if you’ve been feeling a little down lately. Just putting on paper something light—an incident, an anecdote, a favorite family joke—can give a pleasant lift to your spirits.
Another idea is to write something short. No big commitment required. You’ll just dash something off and call it done after a page or two, or less. I do that often. If I’m working on a long, challenging project, I’ll put it aside for a while and write something I can finish quickly. It’s very rewarding.
What if you can’t come up with any ideas?
Look around you. You might see a waffle sign in the window of a breakfast joint, which could lead you to remember the Sunday mornings that you had waffles for breakfast, as I did. My father made them. This might remind you that your father was more easygoing when it came to nutritious meals (as mine was) and that it was your mother who insisted you eat hot cereal on school mornings (as mine did). This says something about their relative personalities and parenting styles—which could inspire you to write a short piece about that. Feel free to bring in other examples of their differing approaches.
Or, you might be gazing at the ocean and recalling the feel of the warm sand on your tiny toes when you were a toddler or kindergartener.
But not everything has to be a cheerful reminiscence. Thinking about your kindergarten year might remind you that frankly, it was a nightmare. You couldn’t seem to settle into the classroom routine. Write about that struggle.
Take a look at your hair, and write about how difficult it can be to get an attractive hairstyle—maybe because of the texture of your hair, or the shape of your face, your receding hairline, or your thinning hair from age or illness. Get it onto the page.
Supercharge Your Life Story With These Ideas can help you dig deeper into your past and your present, for that matter. Give these ideas a try, and let me know if they helped you.