It’s a contradiction we writers know all too well: wanting to write with every fibre of our being, but lacking the necessary inspiration to get started and/or keep going.
So what are we to do when creative motivation is lacking? Simply waiting around for inspiration to strike isn’t a viable option, but neither is forcing something onto the page just for the sake of writing. We’re left with no choice: we have to take inspiration into our own hands and seek it out ourselves.
This is definitely easier said than done, so to help our fellow writers out of any creative ruts, we’ve put together these six simple tips for becoming and staying inspired as a writer.
1. Gain experience
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. Let’s look at the difference between the two.
‘Wait a minute,’ you may be thinking. ‘Isn’t this a bit of a catch-22? If I’m having trouble finding inspiration to write, how can the solution be…to gain more writing experience?!’
We know it sounds tricky – and, truthfully, it can be. But there’s no getting around the facts: the main thing that makes your writing better is doing more of it. Writing and inspiration go hand-in-hand as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: often, the more you get stuck into writing, the more you’ll be inspired to continue writing, and so on.
Likewise, 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.
To get to that stage, though, you do need to face one of the most common problems for writers: getting started. But we have a few helpful hints in that vein, so read on…
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.
As a writer seeking to be as prolific as possible, it can be easy to forget that actually living life is the best way to have things to write about! Spending all your time holed up, concentrating on putting words on the page, can actually be counterproductive. It’s impossible to write something that has real conviction, passion and impact if it’s not coming from a real place.
So, besides the natural course and events of your own life, what else about the world can inspire your writing?
Travel, of course, can be a wonderful muse; new cultures, new people and new adventures are all great catalysts for your creative spark. Getting out of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in unfamiliar places can refresh you and provide new perspectives from which to consider life.
However, you don’t necessarily need to spend six months abroad to foster inspiration for your next story. 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.
2. Read widely
This one is a given, and it’s probably something you’ve heard many times before, but the importance of reading can’t be stressed enough. 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.
Obviously, 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!
Reading becomes especially crucial when you’re lacking inspiration. We don’t necessarily mean that you should go searching for new ideas within other people’s works; while a brainwave might indeed strike you while you’re in the middle of a new novel, it’s more likely that reading will simply remind you why you became a writer in the first place. Try to use the work of other writers as a constant source of encouragement, inspiration and motivation.
When it comes to non-fiction, books about the craft of writing can come in especially handy. There’s an incredible number of books about writing out there, so the titles you find most helpful and inspiring will depend on your individual writing aspirations. To get you started, though, there are a few classic staples that we recommend, as they will serve any writer well. These include:
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- The Writing Book: A Practical Guide for Fiction Writers by Kate Grenville
- The Modern Library Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch
- Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.
Here’s a great tip in today’s age of smartphones and social media: replace the time you’d usually spend aimlessly scrolling Facebook with some proper reading time. Whenever your hand automatically reaches for your phone during lunch breaks or before bed, redirect it towards a book instead! Your writing will thank you for it.
3. Be part of the 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.
When this is the case, it’s time to re-join the real world, and the best way to do so while also seeking inspiration is to connect with likeminded individuals in the writing community.
As we mentioned in point 2, the work of other writers is often a great source of inspiration – but what about writers themselves? Surely there’s no better way to motivate, reaffirm and refresh yourself than by reaching out to people who are just as passionate about writing as you are!
Obviously, this isn’t as easy as flicking Margaret Atwood an email to ask for a few tips. Instead, you’ll need to track down writers online or in your area – most of whom will be amateurs just like you – and start up a discussion, a joint project, or even just a new friendship.
A few good ways to immerse yourself in the writing community include:
- Joining a local writer’s group or your state Writer’s Centre;
- Attending literary festivals, events, classes and workshops;
- Participating in online forums, such as Facebook groups for writers;
- Exchanging work with other writers for feedback and critiques.
The pleasure and benefit you’ll gain simply by talking to another writer is a gift in itself. To discuss your shared passion and craft, and perhaps most importantly of all, to be reminded that other people are having the same difficulties as you… There are few things more encouraging or inspiring to a struggling writer.
4. Keep things in perspective
Writing anything at all – whether it be a well-developed short story or (gulp) an actual full-length novel – can be extremely daunting. An insurmountable wall of possibilities and obstacles can loom up before you, and questions like ‘Where do I start?’ or ‘How can I ever finish?’ can haunt even the most confident wordsmith.
At times like these, it pays not only to remember that you aren’t alone (see point 3), but also to have a sense of perspective. Tackle things in terms of the bigger picture: remind yourself that all writers have been where you are, and that the only way you can truly fail is never to start at all.
To lessen the intimidation factor, keep in mind that writing just a few hundred words every day will add up in the long run. Before you know it, you’ll have a solid foundation upon which to build and expand or refine and improve.
For every writer, crafting stories takes time and extensive effort, so don’t beat yourself up about the problems you can see with your manuscript or the length of time you’re taking to write it. Just take things one word at a time; after all, that’s the only way to get things done.
5. Know yourself as a writer
A writer, like any other professional, needs to know how to play to their strengths. By doing so, you’ll ensure that you’re at the top of your game, producing the best work possible – and you’ll also nip a lot of insecurity and doubt in the bud.
Don’t dwell on your writing’s weaknesses or despair over the aspects of the process you find most difficult. By all means, work to improve these elements, but never allow pessimism to consume you – and, most importantly, never compare yourself negatively to other writers. Instead, focus on what you do best and what you’re most passionate about, and you’ll always find the inspiration and motivation you need.
For instance, if you have a knack for immersive, detailed description, try to build your story around this technique, painting a vivid and engaging portrait for your readers. If you’re more suited to writing snappy, compelling dialogue, use that as a focal point in your writing instead – or even try out a completely different medium that favours dialogue, such as scriptwriting.
As well as knowing your strengths as a writer, you should also make a point of structuring your writing process around your strengths as a worker. For example, if you find you’re most creative and productive first thing in the morning, get up early and dedicate AM hours to writing. Night owls, on the other hand, might choose to rise later so they can stay up writing into the night.
The bottom line is that no two writers will ever write – or work – in exactly the same way. Use this to your advantage by honing in on your individual strengths and allowing them to inspire and guide your writing.
6. Focus on writing first and editing later
At one stage or another, you’ve no doubt come across this sage piece of advice: ‘Write drunk, edit sober’. (While it’s commonly attributed to Hemingway, there’s no evidence that he ever actually advised such a thing – but that’s another story for another day.) While we’re firm believers that you should do what works for you in order to be inspired, we’re not necessarily suggesting that you pop a bottle of red every time you want to write!
Rather, we’re saying that you shouldn’t hold yourself back in any way when creative inspiration strikes. Have you ever sat down to write and found the words flowing forth quickly, effortlessly, almost as if you couldn’t control them? Have you ever found yourself feeling suddenly compelled to scribble down a phrase, thought or idea, even though you’re not entirely sure of the direction it’s leading?
Our advice is to always embrace that feeling completely. 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.
So, writers: after all that, are you feeling any more inspired? If not, don’t worry. It could just be one of those days – we all have them. Take a break and come back to your writing later; but in the meantime, perhaps try out one of our suggestions and see if it stimulates your creativity. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.