It happens to all writers. Another year has passed, and you’ve made zero progress on your writing goals. Deep down you know your writing is important, but you can’t take consistent action. The truth is, you don’t feel inspired. You can’t help but marvel at other writers who do persist, and have a large body of work you can’t even fathom achieving.
Regardless of how successful you are, there will be days you feel uninspired. In fact, what once seemed like a passion-filled calling can turn into a bit of a slog after a while.
Professional athletes love the game, but they don’t necessarily want to train their bodies every single day. Business owners love money and recognition, but they don’t necessarily enjoy the process of getting their business off the ground.
You love expressing yourself with words, but you won’t necessarily enjoy each and every writing session. You have to learn to inspire yourself every day if you want to turn pro and become a popular author or successful writer.
No matter how much you love writing, there will always be days when you need inspiration from one muse or another. Inspiration is not just a desirable thing, it’s an integral part of the writing process.
To keep your inspiration fresh, you’ll have to find various unique ways to get inspired. Every writer needs to find inspiration in order to produce inspired writing. And sometimes, it can come from the unlikeliest sources.
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Make the Subtle Shift from Goal-Setting to Habit-Forming
Realistic goals provide a destination, but habits weave inspiration into the core of your being and make it automatic. Instead of saying, “I want to finish my manuscript,” say “I want to write 30 minutes per day.” Put yourself in a position for continual inspiration. Habits trump goals every time. The most prolific writers aren’t the most goal-oriented. They’re built to show up every day and do the work.
Don’t allow personal issues to become an obstacle
Think about how many aspects of your life can affect your writing. Your diet, exercise routine (or lack thereof), relationships with friends and family, and stress level are a few among many factors influencing your writing. When you lack inspiration for writing, look at other areas of your life. If those aren’t going well, your writing will suffer. Become your own best friend.
Start Acting Like a Child
Remember fun? When you were a child, you only cared about exploration. You didn’t waste time worrying about the future. The present was all you knew. I get it. You have “big dreams,” but if you take yourself too seriously, writing will get rote. If you’re feeling stuck trying to edit your manuscript, write something ridiculous. Write something totally unrelated to your niche for pure fun with no intention of publishing it. Act like a child and watch your curiosity and creativity flourish.
Discover the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Create an immaculate space for your writing. A cluttered environment clutters the mind. When you’re in a clean space, you can feel it. That feeling can translate into a calm and focused state of mind while writing.
Converse to Create
If you listen carefully, the conversations you have with other people can inspire you to take something they’ve said and run with it. Listen intently, and see if there’s anything in your dialogue that sparks interest or could be used as a writing topic. Pay close attention to your conversations, even remembering specific things the other person said. Cormac McCarthy used specific conversations with his son as inspiration for The Road. In fact, some dialogue in the book is word-for-word what his son and he said (“Papa, what would you do if I died?” / “I’d want to die, too”).
Don’t Follow in the Footsteps of Great Writers
Let go of your need to be the next great author. When you compare yourself to the likes of Hemingway, Plath, or Murakami, it’s hard not to get discouraged about your own writing. Focus on becoming the best writer you can be. There are plenty of successful — and financially independent — writers who aren’t legends, but are pretty damn good. Become pretty damn good.
Do not wait for perfection. More than likely, it will never come. No one will die if your book does not win the Nobel Prize for literature, or your article is not published in the most popular ezine. Your perfectionism can work against you, and can stop you from completing anything. Just try to do the best you can, knowing practice makes better, but almost never makes perfect.
Find what excites your creativity
Victor Hugo could not work without the smell of coffee. Isaac Newton (so the story goes) sat under an apple tree to ponder in quiet. Maybe you can identify what habits you have that awaken your creativity. Resort to them when inspiration is needed.
Do not wait for a muse
If you have already tried all the methods described above but your inspiration has not come back yet, start writing anyway. At some point your muse will approach from your back and peek over your shoulder, wondering what you are doing without her. Then, she will give you one hint. And then . . . she will take your hand softly and lead you to the place of inspiration.
Remind yourself: each time you sit down to write you’re ahead of 99 percent of other aspiring writers. Most people do nothing. They talk, wish, and wonder. The mere fact that your fingers are touching that keyboard, or that you are writing in a notebook, makes you special. Inspire yourself by reminding yourself you’re part of an exclusive club — the doers. Once you have conquered the habit of writing, nothing can stop you and you are a force to be reckoned with.
Reading becomes especially crucial when you’re lacking inspiration. You can’t be a great writer without being a great reader. All good writers are readers too. No matter how individual a style or how natural a talent you have, your writing will always be made better by the other work you read and absorb.
Read a wide range of material. If you write non-fiction, sprinkle some fiction into your reading and vice versa. Reading widely opens new doors in your brain and helps you make odd connections between ideas. With reading, you can “download” hundreds or thousands of years of human experience and use it at your disposal.
You should read extensively within the genre or style you intend to write in, but don’t limit yourself to that alone. Whenever you’re not writing, try to devour a variety of genres and forms. Explore fiction and non-fiction, short-form and long-form, poetry and short stories, magazine and blog articles… Read everything, and read often!
The practice of meditation helps relieve stress and clears your mind of negative thoughts. You’ll feel refreshed before you pen your first word. Leo Babauta, one of the most prolific and successful bloggers in the world, has a great introductory post on how to form a daily meditation habit.
Write yourself out of real-life issues
Chuck Palahniuk writes about more shocking stuff than many people will ever experience; this comes from a need to turn awful personal events into less awful, less personal things. Basically, Palahniuk says he channels “dreadful, horrible things in [his] life that [he] cannot resolve” into writing.
Teach an Old Draft New Tricks
Revise an old piece of writing. This has a two-fold benefit. First, you’ll realize how much you’ve grown since writing that piece, which will give you the confidence to know you’ll improve in the future. Second, if you really add some beef to it, you’ll have a brand new piece of writing to share with the world.
Surround Yourself with Great Work
Visit a gallery, go to an opera, or watch a play, movie or TV series. Feel the passion and inspiration from the artists you just watched, and use it in your own writing.
It’s hard to write something truly good, something that profoundly connects with readers, if there’s no experience behind the writing. Now, when we say ‘experience’, we’re referring to both writing experience and general life experience. The more you write, the better you’ll get, and the more chance you have at success through publication or recognition. Oftentimes, a bit of encouragement and the reassurance that you’re doing something well can provide you with all the inspiration you need to keep going.
It may sound clichéd, but the truth about literature is that when it comes down to it, all writing is about life. Every writer, whether consciously or subconsciously, draws on their own knowledge and experiences to inspire them and breathe life into their work. Seeking inspiration can be as simple as sitting in a café or on a park bench, people-watching and listening to snatches of conversation, observing the flow of the world around you and allowing it to blossom into concepts and stories.
Throw away your book and start again
Michael Chabon dropped 4 and a half years and 600 pages of writing because he became frustrated with it, starting afresh for what would become his second book, Wonder Boys. Not all of that time and energy was wasted, however, because he used his life (his fears of not being good enough for a next novel, exasperation at scrapping so much work) as inspiration for the main character of Wonder Boys, which was originally intended to be his “autobiographical brain map.”
Go for a walk in nature
There’s an odd connection between walking and inspiration. There’s something about wandering about that stirs up random thoughts in your mind. Ideas come to you when you aren’t so focused on them. A walk in nature will distract you with its beauty enough to make room for the muse to sneak up on you. Take a walk in a park or go camping. It doesn’t matter what method you choose here–the main thing is that fresh air, rest, and new impressions will feed your inspiration.
Let Life Inspire Art
Some of the best writers, like Hemingway, spent as much time living and adventuring as they did writing. If you want to make your writing more interesting, make your life more interesting. If you’re feeling frustrated, step out into the world, enjoy it, and let your experiences compel you to write again.
Join a writing community
Writing is something of a lonely pursuit. Solitary by nature and by necessity, the craft of writing demands that its pursuers spend a great deal of time inside their own heads. While this suits the majority of writers, there are times when it inevitably leads to frustration, a sense of isolation and a lack of inspiration. A few good ways to immerse yourself in the writing community include: Joining a local writer’s group; attending literary festivals, events, classes, online courses and workshops; participating in online forums, such as Facebook groups for writers; exchanging work with other writers for feedback and critiques.
Find your joy
It’s so easy to forget the importance of that joy, and that’s the real reason why we have a tough time inspiring ourselves to write. The next time you’re stuck, find something to write about that makes you smile. Find something to write about that gives you a buzz. Find something to write about that touches you so deeply, tears of joy are running down your face while you type. That’s what writing is about. It’s a gift, enjoy it.
Write in longhand
Thanks to modern technology, we rarely ever use a pen and a sheet of paper when we write. Just close your Word doc, take a pen, and try to remember the way you wrote back in the day. Maybe these new feelings will awake your inspiration—who knows?
Take ten minutes to write everything that comes to your mind without thinking or pausing. When finished, reread what you’ve written and try to find some useful ideas from the effort.
Get into a strict routine and exercise
When he’s writing a novel, Haruki Murakami gets up every morning at 4 am, works for five or six hours, runs 10 kilometers or swims 1500 meters (or both), reads for the rest of the day, and then goes to bed promptly at 9 pm. He holds this routine for six months to a year, using this repetition as mesmerism to stay inspired. (“I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”)
Don’t overlook the ordinary
Daniel Handler gets most of his ideas, he says, by noticing everyday things and considering them in a different way. He says, “I’ll have some idea or see something or an event will strike me in a certain way. I’ll string it along immediately and think of where it could lead and where it could go. I think of a story.”
Focus on writing first and editing later
Whenever you’re struck by pure inspiration like this, don’t interrupt its flow for anything – let alone to correct grammar, change a word or rearrange a sentence. Without overthinking it, allow yourself to write whatever comes naturally, and don’t stop until you’ve run out of words! Get everything out onto the page, even if it doesn’t quite make sense or isn’t as elegantly phrased as you’d like.
It’s easy to develop the habit of editing as you write, but the truth is, this is neither the most productive nor inspiring way to do things. The writing and editing sections of your brain are totally different. When you’re writing, you’re tapping a well of creativity; you’re giving your mind free rein and exploring any and every possibility. When you’re editing, however, you enter a much more critical mindset, applying judgement, logic and rules to strip your work back to its purest and most effective state.
Always remember that a first draft is just that. It can be sculpted and shaped to your liking a hundred times before it ever sees the light of day; what’s important is that you have some truly inspired raw material to work with in the first place.
Use the process of elimination
While thinking of new ideas, Ann Patchett, instead of looking for “good” inspiration and overlooking the “bad,” considers everything and then weeds out what she can’t use. She allegorizes this using the image of a faucet: “The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath.”
Take a normal situation and make it not normal
Mark Haddon became inspired by Jane Austen for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime because she wrote about boring people’s normal lives. He decided he wanted “to take a life that seemed horribly constrained, to write about it in the kind of book that the hero would read — a murder mystery — and hopefully show that if you viewed this life with sufficient imagination it would seem infinite.”
Listen to “run-of-the-mill” stories
Jon McGregor was originally inspired to write Even the Dogs because of a story he heard in 2003 about a man dying alone in his flat; however, he was more “inspired by how run-of-the-mill it was, rather than how shocking.” He shoved it away until 2007 because it felt like he was “shaping up to write a novel about heroin, homelessness, and dead bodies.” Then, he decided to embrace the “run-of-the-mill”: “The more I found out about the lives of people experiencing addiction, or living on the margins in some way, the more interested I became in the complexity of that experience.”
Listen to music
Music’s positive influence has been proven: one song can help you concentrate and start working, whereas another one will let you relax and think of something pleasant. Just find the music that influences you, and turn it on when you need some inspiration for writing.
Quotes from writing masters, religious leaders, or brilliant thinkers, inspire. When you hear a quote that inspires you, make sure to write it down in a journal or copy and paste it into a document that you go back to every now and again.
If you can’t find any fresh ideas for writing, just go to bed. Yes, this often works, and sometimes after a good night’s sleep, ideas flow easier.