Sometimes inspiration comes from dark places.

As I imagine many writers–especially writers of speculative fiction–do, often I use my writing as a tool to process and cope with things in the world beyond my control. As a trained social scientist with degrees in history, anthropology, and political science, I view the world through a unique lens, one even further shaped and refracted by my identity as a writer, by my gender and my sexuality, by my sociopolitical and spiritual beliefs, by my morality and my upbringing. Each of us carry these things as we approach the world.

I’m going to talk about Skypoint here, but there are themes woven into most of what I’ve written that draw from my perception of and reaction to the world around me. In a lot of scenarios, some of those themes are not terribly hard to find and in others they’re more subtle.

Skypoint, as I am currently envisioning it as I work through the writing of the first draft, is one of those works that draws on a lot of darker inspirations. Spoiler warning, if you don’t want to know what I’m planning for the book in either vague or precise terminology, stop now and move on.

Still here? Okay.

Skypoint delves into themes around bodily autonomy, secrets, conspiracy, and war–it addresses the lengths governments will go to to protect secrets and to gain the upper hand in conflict, the lies that are sometimes told to justify actions, and who has the right to do certain things. In the book as I’m writing it now, and the wider world surrounding it (currently planned to adjust some of the history of Legacies of the Lost Earth while telling at least part of the story of how Earth was lost in the first place), there’s a question of who has the right to make decisions for another individual about their mind and health, about their very bodily autonomy and agency. This is mostly depicted through the handling of people with psychic gifts (a theme that I obviously play with fairly often), but anyone who’s read the Legacies so far knows that it goes further and deeper than that–Alana Chase of the Legacies being a prime example. David L├ęsarte and Hunter Drake are further examples in Skypoint, as both were offered very limited options when it came to their futures–at varying points in their lives, both before and after we meet them in the story.

So, too, does the question of justification for war and how they happen come up in the world. Sometimes there are secrets that are kept so conflict can continue to be justified–and sometimes, as a pretext for conflict in the first place. Admittedly, when I began working on Skypoint, there 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia hadn’t started, though there was still the memory of 2014 and Crimea. Neither of these were on my mind at the time, though, but simmering geopolitical tensions certainly were, as was my own memory of the events that led up to the US-led invasion of Iraq two decades ago. These are the things that inspire and the things that you wrestle with and sometimes, they become useful inspiration and the act of writing becomes cathartic and a mechanism of processing all of the craziness of the world.

Works like Skypoint and the Legacies and all of my other projects have a hint of this to it, except for maybe Magic Crystal Justice Squad which is definitely half tumblr-born dare and maybe half escapism born of a global pandemic.

So I guess, in a way, even that’s a coping mechanism.

Inspiration can come from dark places and dark things, but harnessing that inspiration can help a writer–or any artist–produce something beautiful and lasting, in spite of or perhaps because of its roots. Every work is the product of the time, circumstances, and influences of its creation.

Especially mine.

On writer’s block…

Yesterday, I was at my local Starbucks, enjoying my first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season and getting some work done on Awakenings. At about the midway point in my work, I ended up engaging one of the senior barristas in conversation for a few moments. She asked me if I was working or doing homework, and I laughed and told her (with a pang of self-consciousness) that I was a writer and I was out getting a change of scenery. I told her about what I was working on, and she said, “I’m a writer, too. But I have writer’s block!” I don’t know if she was being serious or not, and I didn’t get a chance to reengage her subsequently. If I had gotten to reengage her, I would have told her that ‘writer’s block’ is just another excuse not to write.

Crazy, right? But the more I think about it, the more I realize how true that statement is. Yes, we all need a break from our writing sometimes–I know that as well as the next person. This having been said, there’s no reason why anyone should ever be completely blocked. Occasionally, walls do arise, yes. But that’s just a signal that you need to take a break.

But while you’re taking a break, you also need to think. Sometimes getting away from the keyboard is exactly what you need to get the ideas flowing, too.
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a few tricks to beating writer’s block.

  • Getting up and taking a walk
    Doing this can not only get the blood flowing, but you never know when or where inspiration will strike while you’re out and about. Sometimes when I need to get away from the keyboard and what I’m working on, I grab the dog and go for a once around the block. Usually about halfway through, I’ve come up with a solution to whatever sticky situation I’ve written myself into.
  • Reassess old projects
    It sounds like a weird tip, but it actually works. If you’re like me, who has dozens of half-started projects floating around, you might find inspiration in one of these fragments–even something you can rework and insert into your current project (that’s what happening with me and Awakenings right now–I found an old short story that I wrote that’s gotten me all inspired).
  • When in doubt, work on something else.
    Just get up and work on something else–writing or otherwise. Work on one of those aforementioned other projects, just to clear your head, or go and do something crafty and otherwise creative. Failing that, clean your room, vacuum your living room, or bake some cookies. Believe me, it helps.
  • Grab your computer (or your notebook) and head somewhere else.
    Your local library or coffee shop can be great venues for this. I personally prefer my local Starbucks or Panera Bread, but a lot of authors (Caitlin Kittredge comes to mind) write at their local libraries. Sometimes, people-watching in those locations, coupled with the change in scenery, can really help the creative process.
  • Try writing longhand.
    I went for months having a hard time writing anything. I finally snapped that streak by sitting down at my desk with my computer turned off and writing longhand on notebook paper. Yes, it’s killing a few trees, but the creative process sometimes requires pen (or pencil) on paper. Mother Nature will understand.
  • Just sit down and write.
    Just do it. Make words come, put them down on paper, and stop caring whether or not it’s good. This is something Chris Baty of Nanowrimo advocates. Turn off the inner editor, ignore personal recriminations, and just pour your brain out onto the page/screen. Some of it won’t be good, but sometimes you’d be surprised by what comes out.

Those are just a few ways I use to combat writer’s block, and I’m sure they’re not the only ways to do it.

So if you’re suffering…try a few of these things and see if they help. Good luck!