How To Write What’s Never Been Written

Author and New York Times columnist, Anna Quindlen, once said,

“Every story has already been told. Once you’ve read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had.”

Key words: If she will let herself.

When I first started writing, I approached the keyboard like a box of Krispy Kremes. I wiggled my fingers and tried to avoid temptation.

I want my main character to do XYZ but I don’t know how to justify it.

Eventually, afraid of wasting time and words, I’d smack my forehead against the desk, cry ‘It just doesn’t work!’, and move onto something that did. The result? Bland, cliché writing. Only when I stopped worrying about ‘how to make things work’ did things get interesting. The lesson? Write unrestrained. Future You will figure out the ‘how.’

Yes, you will write yourself into corners. You will, inevitably, want to chuck your greasy-keyed laptop out the window when, after writing 30,000 words, you realize, ‘My protagonist couldn’t have committed the murder! He was thirty miles away from the crime scene, eating a donut!’

It’s the creativity required to justify that Impossible Scenario that will make your work stand out. As for the fear of being too ‘wild,’ well, if you don’t put it all out there, there might not be anything worth reigning in.

That’s great, but what if I can’t get ‘wild’? And let’s say I do get myself into a corner. How do I get out?

Everyone is different but here are three things that have have helped me think outside the box in regards to writing and General Problem Solving in Life.

Play the ‘What if…’ game.
When you get stuck, write a quick synopsis of where your characters are, then ask yourself ‘What if…’ and scribble down whatever comes to mind. Do this at least ten times. The goal isn’t necessarily to find the answer but to find the next step that will lead you to it.

Turn on the voice recorder on your phone and talk it out.
Interview your characters, play ‘What if…,’ or explain what is going on in your story as if you were telling it to someone else.

Let out your inner Aminal.
This is one of the best writing tips I’ve received in regards to unleashing creativity. It is also the weirdest. My writing coach, the all-powerful Tempany Deckert, told me to draw a fantastical animal. Meet Aminal:

Then, Tempany told me to write from his perspective. By God, is that Aminal creative. This technique was so effective that for two years, I kept a sticky note on the top left corner of my laptop that said, ‘Let Aminal Write.’

Still stuck? Call me. We’ll figure out how to unleash your inner Aminal over a box of donuts.

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