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Don’t know what to write? Try these tried and true methods

Written by April Zhang on Tuesday, 11 June 2024. Posted in Chinese Writing Contest

Don’t know what to write? Try these tried and true methods

You’ve decided to participate in this year’s Chinese Writing Contest. 

You have found yourself a comfortable place with a nice cup of tea. You have placed a piece of paper in front of you, or a blank computer screen. You’ve reminded yourself that the submission starts on August 1, 2024.

The only thing that is not here is … an idea that you can write about. 

Some people may say that you’re suffering “writer’s block”.

“Writer’s block” is nothing new. I’ve heard this term many times. It seems to be a unique problem only for writers. Other people consider “writer’s block” an excuse for writers not to write anything. 

Whether it’s a legitimate problem or not, it is true that sometimes writers just can not think of anything to write about. I have personally experienced it many times. 

Like all the participants in this Chinese Writing Contest, I’m also an aspiring writer. I have written in Chinese, such as my textbooks, also written in English, such as articles you read in this website and articles published elsewhere. 

Writing gets me excited and gives me lots of fun, that is, when I know what I want to write. Quite often I don’t have anything to write about. When this happens, I usually put writing aside and try something else.

Below are some methods that I find helpful to give me ideas to write. And I hope they can help you unlock your fountain of ideas as well:

  • Wash dishes

Washing dishes is one of the activities that can work wonders. And I am not the only person to notice this. Agatha Christie said it first, “The best time to plan a book is while you're doing the dishes.”

I usually wash dishes before the evening news comes on. It is like a meditation, and good ideas just come on their own. 

Besides washing dishes, other monotonous tasks, such as cleaning, knitting, painting a wall, all have a similar effect. 

Study shows that these tasks allow your brain to go on autopilot, leaving you free to daydream in a different universe, where your new ideas are residing. 

  • Take a walk

So many writers have said that new ideas come to them while they are walking. It happens to me too.

Different from washing dishes, taking a walk outside is more active and a more enjoyable experience. Fresh air and mild exercises can get your blood circulated and that might be the thing your brain needs.

Also, the outside environment may stimulate your senses and give you some inspirations.

Make sure you keep a notebook handy. When an idea hits you, you’ll have a place to capture it immediately.  

  • Writing is a form of thinking

Another method that many writers use is just simply to … write, even when you don’t have any ideas to write about.

In other words, you are not trying to write in any coherent manner or to express an idea. It is more like you are just writing down words and sentences, which could appear to be disjointed and random. 

After some time, hours maybe or even days, miracle might happen. Your idea is right in front of you. I’ve heard a writer sharing her story that, after she wrote randomly for a few weeks, an idea for a novel appeared. 

This is something I try too. 

As you write, you begin to think. And as you think, new ideas emerge. 

You might be surprised that you have had these ideas all along. 

  • Read

Read what others have written always helps. Read a wide range of books, and read for both forms and content.

This is something I highly recommend. And it is also in the spirit of this Chinese Writing Contest.

Since you’re preparing for the coming Chinese Writing Contest, definitely try the Easy-to-Read Chinese Short Stories series. 

In this series, you’ll find a good collection of stories, essays, and poems, which are written using the designated 320 Chinese characters. 

If you’ve purchased these books, great. If not, it doesn’t matter because these books are freely available in audio format. 

Listen to the free audiobooks here: 

  • Other methods

When it comes to finding ideas to write about, there is no fixed method. The above mentioned methods are by no means exhaustive. There are other methods that have helped writers to find topics to write about, such as listening to music or spending time with their friends.

Keep in mind that some methods that work for others might not work for you.

For me personally, I always find listening to music distracts me. And when spending time with friends, writing is the last thing in my mind. If writing is not on my mind, I’ll never come up with anything to write about, regardless what I do with my time.

Therefore, finding what methods work for you is the most important. Perhaps it is as simple as sitting there and twisting your thumbs for a while.

About the Author

April Zhang

April Zhang

April Zhang is the founder of MSL Master and she enjoys teaching and interacting with students. She constantly explores new and interesting ways of teaching Chinese through creative and imaginative activities.

With her help, many students have achieved outstanding result, which has enriched their understanding about China and has significantly contributed to their work.