Thread on getting inspiration for Writing

so i‘ve been meaning to write about detective games for a little bit now, but I really struggle to find an Angle on what I’m writing about. I‘ve played a bunch of these games, I like them a lot, and I guess I’d like to express that enjoyment by writing about them, but when I sit down it feels like every creative thing I ever may have thought disappears from my head.

if you're sitting down to write, how do you pin down what it is you're writing? should i abandon this specific topic if I can't come up with a concrete idea? any advice would be welcome, and this is an issue I have with most topics I want to write about.

Same exact process that you employed in order to write this post. In it, you‘ve touched on a variety of different ideas: your enthusiasm for detective games, your writer’s block, your uncertainty of what it is you want to say. And more! That's what would happen if you wrote about detective games—a whole bunch of connected ideas, finding a space to come into their own.

You have to just sit down and type a whole bunch of words, and see what comes out. Some of them will be trash, and some of them won't. You'll have to sift through them and see which ones feel the truest to you.

Just start. And don't stop until you think you've articulated something. It will absolutely not be the exact same thing you set out to write, but that's okay. It'll be an honest articulation of something that was in you, whether you knew it or not.

I think the first thing to understand about writing is that many people approach it in many ways, and no one way is the correct way. You have to experiment and find what writing process works best for you. Or just works best for that particular project.

Free writing, as suggested by whatsarobot, is a great technique to try. Give yourself 15-20 minutes and just go to town. Write about detective games for three sentences and then start planning dinner. Swim around in your brain for a bit. There's nobody looking and there's nobody reading.

Outlining, which I think has become associated with school writing in an unfortunate way, can also be very helpful, especially for people who the whole freewriting thing doesn't work for. And outlines can be many things; they don't have to be a long list of roman numerals presented in a linear manner. People like mind maps. Twine is surprisingly good for this sort of thing. You could just have a main point and a few bullet points underneath. This might help solve your problem of all your creative thoughts disappearing when you try to begin writing. They can't go away if you have them written down.

It would be a good idea to also go read what others have written about detective games. It's easier to write when you are putting yourself into a conversation. Look for stuff that's like what you want to write, what you don't want to write, and for ways people approach things that you could apply to your own writing. This is research. (Be careful about plagiarism though).

Finally, If I may, I would like to recommend the article "Writer's Block Just Happens to People" from this book: (it's on page 110 of the PDF). I think it clarifies the idea of being blocked and I like it's advice to be playful.

I used to be able to free write very easily and naturally some 10 years ago and it does work for many people once you get a couple of sentences written down that introduce the topic in hand. Personally I did find that I was being a little sloppy with what was actually being written and found it difficult to cut out superfluous sentences that would have been obvious to anyone else editing it.

Nowadays I generally try to outline what I want to write about and not get too hung up on getting a comprehensive outline done in one go. I'll always forget things or decide to cut things out but getting an outline out at all is a big step; topics and arguments will fall in place as I wrote. Outlining also helps with longer form writing too, I find.

My only other tip or suggestions is to keep a notepad near you to write down thoughts as you play a game - particularly how you feel about a game at any particular time. Whether it's emotive or physiological write it down, and you can get a lot of mileage and inspiration from knowing how you felt playing a game. The only issue that I find with this is actually writing things down - I frequently forget to write things but if you can regiment yourself into it - perhaps by setting an alarm every hour to write down your thoughts then you're golden.

i‘m a terrible writer, but i guess i’ll try to give some advice anyway.

as with all things, the hardest part is getting started. so i usually i try to start with something that takes no inspiration, just work. this often is systematically writing the most dry and clear cut descriptions possible of whatever the topic is. i don't aim for any creativity or try to make the writing enjoyable to read. just boring "documentation". only do this as long as you need to though. once you have more interesting ideas to pursue (which this kind of straightforward writing often inspires), start thinking about that.

in your case, if it were me writing i'd first come up with a non-exhaustive list of games i'd like to mention, then go down that list and do the work of describing each game for someone who knows nothing about detective games, summarizing their plots, explaining mechanics, and talking about how the games differ from each other. you can think of this as writing a draft for a very boring consumer product review.

usually during this first phase i remember some of the more interesting thoughts i'd had in the past, or as i'm writing i come up with analogies i find interesting, questions i want to probe into more or stories that feel related. since this first preparation often takes more than one sitting, now that my brain has been tuned into the topic, i'll also often come up with stuff while i'm not writing, e.g. working on other things, just showering or falling asleep. all of this other stuff i write down as soon as i think of it, even if it's dumb.

often i'll still feel like i've only come up with obvious or non-starter ideas at this point, so then i'll just force myself to more deliberately come up with new ideas, by sitting at a table with a physical notepad or a word-processor open on my computer (i use like 5 different word-processors and text editors because they all have a different feel to me) and not allowing myself to do anything else. sometimes i do exercises like try to come up with 10 ideas in 30 minutes. or i try to think logically and systematically about ways to approach the article. or i just free form write whatever nonsense pops into my brain, regardless of whether or not it's related to the topic.

all of these phases don't need to be sequential. i often mix and match, punctuating them with time spent on other related activities like research. in my experience, with enough time i always end up with something i feel like i can write about. it might not be the most brilliant thing in the world, but it's at least something that is interesting in some way and i feel like i could be satisfied with.

once i have the idea i temporarily throw everything else out and focus on just that one idea until i've developed it to my satisfaction. for you this might mean writing an outline, though i'm usually satisfied with just having a general image of the intended structure in my head. then i just write. once i've gotten to this point, it's usually (not always) pretty smooth. the painful part is the brainstorming/planning and that's (hopefully) over now. usually i can move pretty quickly, integrating material i've already written with some modifications. e.g. if i get to a part where i need some boring details to support an argument or set a scene, i often already have a version of that from the first phase and i don't need to lose momentum. sometimes things go wrong and i have to change approaches. it's frustrating, but that's just part of the process.

once i end up finishing the first draft it's always a horrible mess. i honestly still don't know how to edit properly, so no advice on that. it's always really miserable for me, even worse than coming up with an idea sometimes.

this is the process that's worked for me when writing fiction, and i more or less do the same thing for non-fiction (i've been able to finally write about music in a way i'm ok with doing this), but the whole brainstorming process is way more stressful. maybe that's just because i'm less used to non-fiction.

one final quirk of how i write is that a lot of my creativity comes from deciding what *not* to write. there's two main forms of this: (1) i come up with an idea, but it feels too much like what other people would say, or (2) i have something i want to say, but i can't find a way to say it clearly or without sounding trite/boring. with (1) i might throw the idea out completely, or i'll find a way to mutate it into something too weird for anyone else to write. with (2) i might try suggesting the ideas i want to express in some indirect way. sometimes this results in stronger writing! sometimes neither of these work and i just have to come up with better ideas.

anyway, this is just me and i'm sure other people do things differently. hopefully though reading this can give you some ideas for how to proceed!

I‘ve studied Publicity and Marketing, and so one of the courses I did was to build publicity campaigns that were very crazy oriented. In that sense, I think that this approach may be useful for some, but: think about the core idea you have, and track which is the silver lining if you can. Once you do this, one good idea is to emphasize that point through the structure: which is the concept I want to do? For example, M/Other is a film about a couple (an exhusband that leaves his wife and starts a new relationship) and the kid has to live with the exhusband, but the idea is how an extraneous element throws off and shows the cracks that have been overlooked into the relationship and the connections of intimacy between the two, and the film director emphasizes this with a minimalistic approach with a sharp contrast between day and night (everything is filtered through a dubious hard illumination) and veeeery long scenes with a lot of heavy-handed dialogue to really get into it. It’s maybe a wild example, but thinking about how to frame is also writing.

As for sitting down and writing, I think it's like competitive sport: you want to keep practising each day, but at the same time you don't want to overdoit. Thinking about writing is essential for me, and I need sometimes to digest or hibernate the ideas by writing and walking whenever I can, but writing in itself is kind of a habit. If it doesn't come properly or seems too tough, I'd say that the best is to fool around with language. Also, another good thing to do is try to write about anything mundane that strikes you (as a practice).

@“ed”#p128585 I‘ve been writing a few essays on specific types of games as well, and I have a bunch of topics that I really want to cover but I can’t find an “angle”, not that everything has to be an expository essay or whatever, but I kept stopping myself because I didn‘t really know what point I wanted to make. Anyway I found that if I just sit down and start writing all of my thoughts as they come, and just let myself start gushing about a topic I’m passionate about, eventually I notice a trend of things I'm trying to say, things I want to convey in a convincing manner, and the angle of the essay kinda just reveals itself, more or less? Then I can start outlining, etc.

I can't say with any confidence that it would go that way for anyone else necessarily, but it may be worth just sitting down and making a rough bullet point list of all the things you care about, get excited about, all the details that make you want to write about the topic in the first place, and see what comes out?

This may or may not be helpful but here's a variety of things from me:

when it comes to essay writing, I almost always am doing it because I have a point I want to make, a thing I'm mad about, or a connecting thread I want to weave. So what I do in this case is:
1) outline some of the salient points I want to talk about. This isn't an actual outline, it's a bulleted list of things I can think of that I want to talk about, in no order. Just a shotgun blast of ideas.
2) start writing from my point/thesis/whatever you want to call it
3) write everything I can remember from the outline without looking at it unless I get stuck. the best ideas will shake themselves to the top anyway.
4) look over the outline after I've finished my first run and see if I missed anything big.
5) give it one more read and fix all the bad sentences.

that's the process I used for [this thing ]( wrote yesterday.

When it comes to creative stuff, that's harder, but I often do something like this:
1) write some fun prompts or sentences. Like for game sidequests I'll just write funny sentences. "this music is too loud." "I can't see my toes anymore" "did someone swap my dog out for an identical dog?" "the floor feels weird" "this stick looks like my grandma"
2) look at this list and see if any of them seem funny or interesting to me. from there it's really easy to come up with a scenario around it.

Another process I have is pace around in circles agonizing, or taking a shower. That's for detailed plot points that I'm having trouble reconciling.

In your case, I think the key is - why do you want to write about this? It certainly can't be that you have nothing to say, otherwise why would you be compelled. So what I'd start with is a list of reasons you want to write this article. "I like detective games." "detective games help distract me from my life" "it's easier to solve someone else's problems than my own" "I like figuring things out within a structure" - etc etc.

then figure out which of the games you want to talk about fit that narrative.

Another way to go about it could be to, as someone else said, write down a list of detective games that speak to you. what's the common thread here? Now write down a list of detective games you don't like as much. what's the common thread here? why don't these ones resonate but the others do? why does this resonate with you as a person but not the friend you recommended it to, and not your dad? what are the important questions to ask that I haven't asked?

Somewhere inside all of that you should figure out what your point is. I personally wouldn't write something without knowing the point I was moving toward because the likelihood of creating a meandering screed that's not of much value to you is much higher. It's most important to make sure that the writing is of value to you, even more than targeting your audience, but then make sure the audience has been considered after you've got how this thing relates to you.

That's how I see it with essay writing anyway!

Adding on to a lot of the great advice above, the main thing I would say to avoid getting stuck is to remember that nothing you write down is set in stone. If you write a sentence you don‘t like, just move on and come back to it later. If you write yourself into a corner with an argument that you’ve lost track of, write a […] or something and then move on to where you want to go. I find that when I‘m planning an essay in my head, I turn myself in all sorts of circles, and it’s not until I start writing that the actual point becomes clear. Often, I think the essay will be about one thing, and then as I go it turns out that I want to write about something else entirely.

If you're writing about a movies or books or games, a good start is just to describe/summarize it as simply as possible. The way you choose to describe it might give you a clue as to what you consider important about it, and what aspects you want to explore. That might be the main character, a specific event, or a quality of the game design. That specific thing that you find notable, and the way it resonates with you on an emotional and/or intellectual level is the "angle."

Thanks all for the advice! I sat down yesterday and managed to write like a page of Stuff. No core thesis yet has surfaced, and I think I‘ll have to do some more research and thinking before it does, but all of this advice did help me a lot and I’ll continue to employ it.

Perhaps an unpopular opinion but I think if someone has nothing to write about, they probably shouldn‘t write. I have the same general attitude with with all art. If one has nothing to say, then they shouldn’t struggle to come up with something to say. I‘m not trying to be mean and I hope you don’t take this personally. This is just my nihilistic streak peaking out. I just think there is already a lot of art and media out there, so why add to it if you don‘t have a unique angle? I can generally tell when a writer has cobbled something together out of thin air. Reading it feels like it’s wasting my time.


@“exodus”#p128632 I personally wouldn’t write something without knowing the point I was moving toward because the likelihood of creating a meandering screed that’s not of much value to you is much higher.

I think @exodus said as much, but in a gentler and much more constructive way. So probably just listen to him. Haha.

Ok I feel a bit bad, so I'm gonna attempt to be actually helpful. My favorite book about writing is "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. The core idea is that you start small, and start with anything. Don't get stuck thinking about the bigger picture. Find a little nugget that excites or interests you and write about it. Don't worry about the rest. Only look as far as your headlights can see. Don't worry about the rest of the trip. Often times the momentum can carry you a ways after that.

My first paragraph was more me expressing an idea and probably less to do with you. Also, I would really like to see your writing if you have any online. :)

My more positive take is that if someone really wants to write about something, but don‘t know exactly how, they DO have something to write about, they just can’t find it, otherwise they wouldn't feel the compulsion. they just have to find that kernel of interest first.


@“wickedcestus”#p128639 nothing you write down is set in stone.

Very much so - friend of the show Gita Jackson just said something great to @Jaffe who was having writers block - you can't edit a blank page! Sometimes you just gotta write something bad and then edit it until it's good. Once you've got something bad down you can learn a lot about what the good bits are. nobody ever has to see the bad draft. You can also use this with one of my techniques above - write a whole infodump bad draft, then rewrite it without looking at it, only using the parts you remember, which are likely the best ones anyway.


@“exodus”#p128799 My more positive take is that if someone really wants to write about something, but don’t know exactly how, they DO have something to write about, they just can’t find it, otherwise they wouldn’t feel the compulsion. they just have to find that kernel of interest first.

I'll complete the diplomatic angle on this overall point and say that if you don't know _what_ you want to write about, it doesn't mean "don't write, ever," it just means, wait for the moment that the right idea takes shape, so that you're not just getting frustrated pursuing things you end up not being interested in before you can even finish them.

I mean, unless you depend on writing to survive, creative pursuits are not a race. You can't rely on purely being inspired spontaneously, 'cause not all spontaneous ideas are even good nor can you control when you get inspired. But neither can one rely solely on grit and determination to pursue creative work.

Beethoven took like a decade off of serious composition. So did Brahms. As for the third Big B, I don't remember if Bach ever took that long off from writing 'cause he was patronized by the Lutheran church and depended on consistent output to stay in his professional role, but, those were economic realities for Bach that weren't the same for Beethoven and Brahms (and, hey, probably aren't the same for you either). Maybe this is just more frustrating to hear if you're downplaying how long you've felt stuck by saying you've wanted to write for "a little bit," but like, if Beethoven could take a decade off, it's only fair that us normal people wait a little while for the right idea and the right amount of drive to align.

As for feeling like your thoughts are not creative, I would be careful about assuming that your thoughts are not creative simply because they aren't wholly novel. True novelty is a vanishingly scarce resource, especially in a centuries long established art form like literary or media criticism.

In the age of the internet I think we have to discard the idea that novelty is essential to justify a creative pursuit, because, even if you collect a lot of the same information as someone else, or choose a similar superset of, say, individual games to talk about as someone else has, you still got one thing that is surely totally unique, which is your own life and your own unique perspectives. I say this every once in a while when people come to the forum for the first time and expect everyone here to be talking exclusively about obscure games and that there's no discussion or appreciation of huge zeitgeisty releases, but whether you like obscure things or hugely popular things, you can still like popular things for obscure reasons, 'cause your individual perspective is the most obscure thing of all. I guess this is kind of why it can be a bit of a cheat code to inject gonzo journalism and biographical tangents into media criticism, because it can be a very artful way to explain why it is you feel a certain way about the subject of your criticism. It's a good cheat code and I like it a lot, for the record.


@“Gaagaagiins”#p128834 As for feeling like your thoughts are not creative, I would be careful about assuming that your thoughts are not creative simply because they aren’t wholly novel. True novelty is a vanishingly scarce resource, especially in a centuries long established art form like literary or media criticism.

You know, this reminds me of something I pick at when the mood strikes me, and how I nearly killed it in my head when I found a few distinct pieces of writing from a while back that seemed to cover everything I wanted to say, in the sense that, like... each piece said a different 65% of the things I wanted to say that I previously thought were at least somewhat distinct, so suddenly I felt everything I could say would not be novel _at all._

However, I had some internal rebuttals to that:

  • - Neither of those writers wrote 100% of what I wanted to say, only I will write everything that I want to say in one place.
  • - If those other writers mean what I want to say isn't novel, but what myself and those other writers were saying is still not commonly said, maybe it's not so bad to repeat it.
  • - If those writers were saying a lot of the same things I wanted to say, but not recently at all, it can really possibly mean that the ideas are just naturally good and can be re-explored by now.
  • - Convergent evolution often means the evolutionary strategy is sound, so, it's only natural that more than one person or persons would come to it independently of each other. It's not a bad thing when you will be in agreement with other smart and talented writers.
  • Lastly, if your writer‘s block is Total and you find that you struggle to write anything at all, perhaps you are getting too focused on the inability to write something specific. You might find you’ll come up with your best ideas for writing something while you‘re writing something else, even if they’re not even related to the other thing that you have this as of yet unfocused desire in the back of your head to do. I had a composition professor who swore by the technique of working on two pieces at once as a rule because he would be pecking away at one piece, maybe hitting a roadblock, and then he'd realize he was inadvertently writing something that would work great in the other piece. The cutting room floor for one project becomes the recycle bin for the other.

    Something that would really help me too when I felt unmotivated was to get that sort of tandem process going, or at least just into the idea of writing again, by doing some thing with a contrived premise and a deliberately small scale. The idea is to basically give yourself a shortcut to the satisfaction of having a Completed Work, no matter how small it is, because there's just so many different creative muscles flexed between the different creative processes of starting a piece, progressing through it, finalizing its ultimate form, refinement, editing, and completion.

    I found it especially helpful to contrive premises for pieces through things like pastiche, process based techniques, arbitrary constraints, and lots of other things but especially keeping things at a predetermined minimum length. For a composer I might say something like, generate a 12 tone row, figure out some fun distinctive tetrachords that you like the sound of from that 12 tone row to emphasize, 50 measures, solo piano, try to make it sound like an earlier one of Bartok's _Mikrokosmos_ miniatures for piano pedagogy, and then just see what you can accomplish in one sitting. There is a LOT you can learn just from taking very clear and focused examples of the things that you want to do or write about and trying to imitate or iterate on it.


    This is well said.

    I used to read interviews with famous writers to try to figure out how they did it, and even attempted to copy various techniques until I discovered what worked for me.
    But basically, just try a bunch of things and stick with the one that seems to work, that feels easy, that doesn't feel like work.

    I have decided to write my Sci-Fi book as of today. Everything is scattered concepts, jotted down. It is a start.


    Good luck!

    If you need any advice, feel free to reach out.

    If you're having trouble articulating your thoughts, you could write a fictional story with characters who share their thoughts. This way you can write the way someone speaks and it still sounds good, cause its coming from a character. This is my secret. Perhaps one character discusses how great detective games are while the other wonders why they care so much.

    I don’t write write but I do write words for music and words for software and stuff. Not the same but my process may be applicable.

    I write a deliberately bad version of the thing. I don’t mean a draft, I mean a consciously awful piece of garbage that annoys me and would annoy any poor chump who accidentally read it one day. I make the mistakes on purpose to get them out of the way. That itchy anger about the poorly-written nonsense with my name on it then forces me to make it better. If there happens to be a tiny nugget of something good in there it’ll show up through the improvement process as all of the objectionable filth surrounding it gets stripped away.

    This is why most of my Insert Credit posts have 300 edits.