Every writer goes through a stretch when good ideas simply aren't forthcoming. Most have ideas, but they tend to dismiss them as terrible, rehashes of a more famous story or something not worth writing.
These same writers will tell you going through a creative dry spell is one of the most frustrating things a writer can face. Without an idea, there essentially is no writing. It's one of the many forms of writer's block. (Though I personally find myself more irritated when I've started on something and get stuck with it.)
Thankfully, there are a ton of places to turn when you find yourself completely out of fresh ideas. Here are a few:
Find a Prompt
Some writers may tend to frown upon using prompts. It's someone else "idea" so to speak. You'll probably never find yourself getting such works published, and that alone is enough to make writers shy away from using them.
The point of using a prompt is to kick start your writing, to get your creative juices flowing again. The prompt is just the start. Most prompts (depending on where you find them) tend to give you a ton of space to mold characters, setting or plot.
I personally belong to a group on Wattpad which gives out a one-word prompt for each weekend. The only "rule" is that the work come in around 500 words in length. Otherwise, it's complete freedom to interpret the word in a way which fits my idea. I have found it very helpful as it is the one time each week where I know I'll have an idea to write about. The group is very responsive and I get a ton of feedback as well.
Those works may never be published anywhere else, but that isn't the point. I can pretty much count on writing 500 words, in my own creative story, each week. It may not be a lot, but it's enough to make me feel like I'm making headway as a writer.
Other than Wattpad, you can simply use Google to find prompt lists. Some are tied to contests or submissions, others are just for fun. I enjoy the group setting as it gives me feedback as well, but you may find you just want to do things on your own terms.
As odd as this sounds, I have gotten TONS of ideas from Wikipedia.
I tend to write a lot of historical fiction, so the translation into a story is often rather easy. You find some historical event and write some sort of tangent to it: Add dialogue to a poorly-recorded event; make the real historical event a background element to your story; or use the event as the basis for a completely new story.
Also on the menu, if you're a sci-fi writer, is a wealth of ideas for alternate history. These are especially fun when you examine some relatively obscure historical event, then try to think about the butterfly effect of things unfolding differently. While the alternate history genre tends to focus on major historical events turning out differently (WWII or the American Civil War), it can be more fun to explore something well off the beaten path, such as if George Washington had received the British Army commission he asked for.
The best thing about Wikipedia is the sheer volume of things to read on it. It doesn't have to be a historical event to inspire you. Perhaps it is an unusual place (such as Mt. Athos in Greece) or an extinct animal or even an intriguing name.
My ever-growing collection of short and flash fiction stories is comprised of at least 70 percent Wikipedia-inspired stuff. At the very least, I learn something new even when inspiration doesn't strike me.
What You Thought You Heard
So it might be borderline silly, but taking a misheard statement and running with it might just be the best thing to get you started on your stalled writing.
We've all had times when someone has said something to us and our mind hears relative nonsense. We either ask for clarification or we try to sort it out in our head, as to what the statement actually was.
But it can be equally fun to say what you think you heard aloud, and perhaps jot it down for future use. I have a nice list of weird things I thought I heard from my children and my wife. Some of the better ones include my son's mispronouncing of the Grim Reaper into a character called the Gym Reaper (perhaps a person who excels in physical education?) and "Pirates with Jetpacks" (which came from some garbled statement by my wife, which I no longer remember).
The point is, you can find some fun jumping points for starting a story by stringing together the nonsense you thought you heard.
Fictionalizing One of Your Own Memories
You remember a lot of stuff. Most of it is boring and wouldn't make compelling reading if the true version were told. But there's no rule about using it as inspiration for a nice fiction story. After all, Hollywood thrives on the "Based on True Story" types of movies which often bear little resemblance to the actual event. (Braveheart being a classic -- and massive -- offender.)
Start with the time you got lost in the department store and went to the service desk to have them page your mother. In real life, your mom came up, probably mildly embarrassed and annoyed and got you. Not the most exciting story. But if your mom vanished into thin air, or she mysteriously developed amnesia and doesn't know you're her child...well, that's the start of a good yarn.
As long as you're not pawning off your story as total non-fiction, you have license as a writer to take a real event and add spicier elements to it. It's an easy way to get started on something, since you already know the entire story as it actually played out. You can twist around the ending. Throw in a scene with your annoying sister to add tension. Maybe a brush with fame or some mortal peril. It's up to you.
The World Around You
It's obvious inspiration can strike anywhere at any time. If you're stuck creatively, the best advice I can give to get better at observation. This includes reading, listening and looking at your surroundings. Weird business names start to show up. You become intrigued about why someone felt the need to put up a deer crossing sign on a particular stretch of highway.
Questions are almost always at the root of a good idea, particularly the "what if..." kind. You'll find a good idea in no time if you start down that path.
And what if you don't find inspiration, wracking your brain but coming up empty? I'd say that could make a good story, but Stephen King already beat you to it.
Writers tend to get into ruts, even when they don't have writer's block. I'm talking about writing the same kinds of stories over and over again. Not pushing the limits of genre, falling into common story tropes, and not challenging themselves to do something different.
If you're selling work on Amazon, it's quite a challenge to get out of your comfort zone. If you build any kind of following there, you're probably not willing to offend or lose it by switching genres or styles. For me, I've missed opportunities to grow as a writer trying to cultivate a fan base on Amazon.
This is where a place such as Wattpad can provide you with a perfect opportunity to all of the things you wouldn't do on Amazon. Try out some new genres. Write flash fiction or short stories, or experiment with writing a serialized novel.
On Amazon, I primarily have literary fiction and historical fiction for sale. I believe they are well-written and great stories, but I found myself falling into a rut with writing in those genres. I have always found lots of freedom when writing science fiction, but those kinds of stories would not fit in with my current offerings on Amazon.
So a few months ago, I opened a Wattpad account and tried out a few things on the platform. I intentionally made a few mistakes to get fodder for a blog, one of which was to post some writing very similar to my Amazon offerings. Those works pretty much bombed on Wattpad, for a variety of reasons.
But I also took the opportunity to delve into writing science fiction, particular using the flash fiction format. While I tend to write a ton of short stories, flash fiction has been a challenge to me.
I belong to a group which writes 500-word stories based off a prompt. It provides a perfect challenge for me, to craft a new idea based off a one-word prompt, then flesh out a quick story on it. To add to the challenge, I allot myself one hour from concept to completion.
Needless to say, I am happy with the results thus far. I can feel my writing improving each time I offer a new work to the group. I enjoy writing again, and I'm out of the rut I was in.
Wattpad can (and should) be a low-pressure environment for trying to branch out as a writer. You're not selling anything, it's for pure enjoyment. As such, you don't feel duty-bound to offer similar writing to your other works. It can truly help you rediscover your voice.
I've always felt it was important for writers to attempt to write all different kinds of forms and in different genres. You can get practical experience writing things you may need for something more important, say, writing an action scene.
And the best part about Wattpad, from my point of view, is getting feedback from fellow writers about what works and what doesn't. When I finally do decide to head back to Amazon with new offerings, they will be of much higher quality.
So grab a pen name and drop in on Wattpad. Use it to push your boundaries. It's worth the time and effort.
For writers who know little to nothing about Wattpad -- myself included -- it's hard to spot value from using it.
You're giving away perfectly good writing for free, and in the eyes of some publishers, spoiling it for all time in terms of selling it. That alone is a powerful deterrent for many serious writers.
The reality of the site is a little more nuanced, of course, as I have learned in the roughly two months since I started using it.
Wattpad is far more suited toward engagement with other writers and actual writing than other social sites, such as Twitter. (I pick on Twitter because I have used it as a primary social platform for awhile now.) To put it simply, on Twitter you have to beg to get people to read your work. Getting a reader involves someone leaving the platform to actually read your writing. I never had tons of luck snagging readers from Twitter.
On the other hand, it hasn't taken me long at all to get multiple sets of eyes on my work on Wattpad. It does not happen organically, however. Just because you published something on Wattpad doesn't mean that anyone will bother reading it. (And in most cases it is nearly impossible for anyone to run across it via searches.) You have to put in a little effort. This is what Wattpad Community is for.
The Community is not part of the Wattpad mobile app, you have to navigate to it (www.wattpadwriters.com) and log in. It goes without saying you are better off at an honest-to-god computer doing this than your phone's browser, but to each his own. You can get there on a phone browser.
Be prepared to have a massive amount of time swallowed up sifting through the Wattpad Community looking for the right place to start engaging people. As an older writer, I find most of the users are relatively inexperienced teens and college students, so finding a "tribe" is a little more challenging. There are endless threads of nonsense to wade through and it may take you a few tries to land with a group of like-minded writers. Don't skip this step, though. It's pretty much essential to getting anything meaningful out of your Wattpad experience.
Since joining a group, I've garnered hundreds of reads on my work. I get regular feedback and comments. Unlike Twitter, I don't have to beg. I just post my work to the group, and they go in and read it at their leisure. This is the value which Wattpad provides: the ability to get unbiased feedback on your work. And since almost 100% of the writing there is not behind some kind of paywall or purchase (sorry Amazon/Goodreads), you don't have to break your bank or anyone else's to participate.
Wattpad is not without its warts.
As I mentioned before, there are a lot (and I cannot stress A LOT enough) of young writers on Wattpad. There are the usual genres which accompany such youth in droves. If you love brooding vampires, magical fantasy worlds and bi-curious dragons, you'll love Wattpad. If you write in other genres, you're in a minority. Finding readers for non-fiction, literary or historical fiction is challenging on Wattpad.
Wattpad's Community site clearly has had issues in the past and are governed by some strict rules. You can't just go around soliciting for readers. Publishing a link to your story in the wrong thread will result in catching the ire of Wattpad's version of the Eye of Sauron, the Community Ambassadors. There are stern talkings-to, post removals and other harsh things to follow. Learn what is acceptable and where to post things before diving in with both feet.
Probably the biggest strike against Wattpad is how often some of the functions are broken on the site. Since I have joined, I have not witnessed their tagging system work the way it should, for instance. The stats on your story reads and votes are often wrong, out-of-sync or incomplete. Usually those things fall more into the "annoying" category, but on occasion they are downright frustrating.
One of my personal complaints about Wattpad is the very limited options you have for formatting your story when you post it there. I want my stories to look a specific way in terms of readability (short paragraphs which are easy to discern from the next paragraph). Wattpad makes it tough on me and I've messed up a few drafts battling the formatting.
And Then There's That "First Rights" Publishing Thing
This is probably the most frightening thing about Wattpad for a new writer or someone who's looking to be published. It scared me off for more than a year. I didn't want to screw up my chances with an awesome work by giving it away on Wattpad.
I do think there are publishers who absolutely would reject a work solely on the grounds that it had been available on Wattpad. I think there are other publishers who would realize that Wattpad readers are not people who generally buy books in the first place and you haven't done a thing to the marketability of your work.
Honestly, this is a judgment call, and one you need to make personally. For me, the value of having readers is outweighing my fears about "ruining" the publishing rights to the work. I still have things to learn, and Wattpad is a good place to learn without the pain of a rejection letter.
People make a big deal out of it, but in realistic terms, your chances of being published traditionally are rather slim to begin with. And probably just north of zero without some honest, unbiased feedback to help you hone your craft.
I am pretty happy with my experiences so far, I'd love to hear about yours.