I first heard the advice during NaNoWriMo a few years ago: Always stop writing while you still have ideas so you’ll have a starting point for the next day.
It’s excellent advice. We’re told not to tap the well dry — leave a bit of water today to prevent inspirational drought tomorrow.
Too bad I rarely follow the advice.
My typical routine is to pluck halfheartedly at the keyboard in the early stage of my day’s writing. After a while, I strike a bit of inspiration and write until it fizzles out. Then I snap the laptop closed for the day.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
This was my system … until two weeks ago.
I was proofreading a page with advice columns and horoscopes when a light bulb flared.
Horoscopes offer a universal scenario in vague terms, with just enough specifics to make the scenario applicable to any person’s life.
Or … any character’s life.
As I edited the horoscope page, the thought occurred to me: Each day, I write myself into a corner before I close the laptop. I write until I run out of ideas, and the following day I struggle to find the next nugget of inspiration.
Meanwhile, every day, the newspaper offers twelve nuggets of inspiration.
Horoscopes are vague enough that they can easily be incorporated into a novel or story as a starting point for inspiration.
For example, in the Feb. 27 paper:
- You will be disappointed by someone who reneges on a promise.
- A preoccupation with professional responsibilities will take its toll on an important relationship. Friction is likely unless you make a focused effort to nurture what you’ve got. Re-evaluate what’s most important to you.
- Your sense of humor and quick wit will lead to greater popularity. Others will be startled to see how entertaining you can be.
- You’ll face a minor disagreement. Do your best to keep the peace by making concessions.
These scenarios are universal — they can take a dozen different forms. For instance, a reneged promise can be as simple as a parent saying, “We can’t go to the movies like I promised. I got called in to work to cover for a sick co-worker” or as complex as a spouse breaking a marriage vow.
We can take any of these tidbits and write them into our stories. A room of twenty writers could insert a scenario in twenty different ways to create twenty distinct stories. Even though they share the same vague basis — a broken promise, professional preoccupation, a minor disagreement — they are different scenarios in the end.
That’s the beauty of horoscopes. Just specific enough to offer a starting point. Just vague enough to be universal.
Next time you need inspiration or write yourself into a corner, turn to the horoscopes page in the newspaper and challenge yourself to insert one into your writing. It might be the breakthrough your plot needs.