Allow me to let you in on a secret: writing is difficult. Some teachers and even fellow writers will tell you that it’s not — that it’s an art and flows naturally. They’re lying. Good art can’t be created without a struggle. I mean, c’mon, Van Gogh cut off his ear for his art. And while staring at a blinking cursor as the clock ticks in the background isn’t exactly the same as losing an ear, it still feels quite painful.
So from one honest writer to another: Yes, writing is difficult. It’s especially difficult when you also write for your day job.
Working as a copywriter, I literally write for 6 to 8 hours a day. As a result, the last thing I want to do after work is write more. I’ve learned that in order to write well — and not beat myself up for not wanting to write — I have to save my writing for the weekend. Even then, it’s difficult finding the inspiration to write and difficult channeling my creative brain. However, I know how important it is for me to continue writing for myself and about topics that intrigue me.
If you’re a writer like me, you know how challenging finding the inspiration to write can be, whether or not you write for a living. Here are four tips to get you started when it feels as though you don’t have anything to say:
Let inspiration come to you at any time
You can’t expect your brain to think up new ideas and new ways to convey those ideas under pressure. Rather than forcing yourself to be creative during an allotted time frame, allow inspiration to hit you at all times: when you’re in the shower, when you’re driving, when you’re walking down the street, when you’re in the middle of a conversation with a friend. And when it does hit, don’t let it slip away. Turn off the water, pull over, stop walking or interrupt your friend and jot the ideas down. Whether you chose to carry a notebook or use an app on your phone, don’t let those ideas pass through you. No matter how small or detailed they are, take the time to write them out. Then, when it does come time for you to write, you can do just that — without having to wait for your inspiration to hit.
Coax your inspiration when necessary
Yes, this bit of advice seems to contradict what I just said. However, in an effort to continue being honest, sometimes you’re under a deadline and the inspiration just won’t come. When that happens, you have to find ways to coax it out of you.
I recently read Lauren Graham’s autobiography Talking as Fast as I Can. In the book, Graham is under a deadline for two scripts and a novel, and she needs help finding the inspiration to write. One of her friends advises her to use what he calls the Kitchen Timer Method. In short, the method works like this:
Sit down on a set day for an set amount of time, be it 10 minutes or an hour. Use a kitchen timer, or some other device, to set the time. Silence your phone, disconnect your WiFi and write whatever words emerge from your head during that time. Treat the writing like journaling. Write “I hate to write” if you must. Write about what you had for breakfast or what you dreamed last night. Write anything. Write nothing. Chances are, your muddled thoughts will eventually form some cohesive sentence or paragraph. However, whether or not they do, as soon as your time is up, get up and do another task. Give yourself a break. Return again tomorrow — or the next day that fits into your schedule — for another set amount of time.
I think this method is GENIUS! It helps eliminate the pressure that can make finding the inspiration to write challenging, and it gives you a set amount of time to search for inspiration when you have none. At the end of each writing session, you can feel accomplished for sticking to your goal of trying, even if nothing amazing came out of it, again relieving the pressure!
Have a designated creative space
Whether you have the inspiration before you sit down or are writing under the Kitchen Timer Method, I find that ideas come better when you’re in a space that calms you and speaks to who you are.
When my husband and I bought our new home, I immediately knew that I wanted to create a reading nook/writing area. While I wasn’t able to use the second bedroom to do so (my husband works from home, so it’s his office), I transformed half of our living room into that space. I found cozy chairs on Craiglist and accented them with funky throw pillows from Target. I snagged a distressed, antique-looking desk and chair from a local flea market. At the flea market, I also started collecting pieces of art for my gallery wall, which has continued to grow over time. I set up a bookshelf with a few favorites from my collection and accented the shelf with fun pieces. I also made sure to fill the space with my favorite family and wedding photos.
When I sit down to write in that space now, I already feel the creativity flowing because it’s a space that I built and designed. No matter how small your home is, or how little room you have to work with, you can always find some tiny corner to call your own. Get on Pinterest to get ideas because you would be surprised at what people have done to create their own spaces!
Draw inspiration from other authors
Finding the inspiration to write from other authors — stealing it in a way — is acceptable. It’s even encouraged. The best way to do this is to constantly be reading, whether it be magazines, short stories or novels. Reading something interesting or beautifully written is the best way to make a writer yearn to write. Haven’t you ever read something so good that you wished you could emulate it or capture its same essence? Or maybe you’ve read about a topic so intriguing that you wanted to do more research and possibly even write about the topic!
You can also find inspiration through books and talks about writing. While reading a book or listening to a lecture about writing may sound boring, I assure you it’s not. It’s stimulating and gives you insights into how other great minds in your field find their muse. Not only does it give you an inside look, it helps you realize that you’re not alone: All authors struggle when it comes to finding the inspiration to write. Knowing that your favorite author has as well can be a true comfort.
Thanks to recommendations and assignments from a former college professor, I’ve come across several books and talks about writing and creativity that I still turn to today when I need inspiration. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, as well as her Ted Talk on creativity, helped me think about where I get my ideas, how to best capture them and, most importantly, how to co-exist with my creativity (since it’s often fighting for attention with my anxiety). Another favorite, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, took me back to the fundamentals of writing and reminded me how creative those fundamentals can be.
Finding the inspiration to write is a daunting idea at times, but don’t let getting in a creative mindset become a chore. We’re writers after all, and being creative is our forte! Now that you have a few tips to get you started, there’s only one thing left to do… get writing!