The Main Problem with Inspiration
If you’re a writer, you surely know what it’s like when you have to force every new word out of yourself. It seems like thoughts just won’t flow out of your mind freely anymore; instead, you spend minutes and hours thinking over each sentence, editing and rewriting each paragraph immediately after finishing it, dreading the necessity of having to write another page. Many writers, both professional and amateur, find themselves in this position from time to time. Trust me, it’s not about suddenly ceasing to be creative; it’s about needing a new approach, a break from the usual routine.
Creativity and inspiration often go hand in hand. Much like other resources, such as stamina, creativity and inspiration can become depleted. You need some time to recover. Some people need just short breaks; for others it might take weeks or even months to fully recharge. In any case, what’s important is that there are ways to speed up the process of replenishing your creativity. Every writer has their own methods, but there are also some universal techniques that anyone can apply. Below is a list of 25 methods to find inspiration, boost creativity, and return to writing as quickly as possible. Feel free to pick and choose from the list.
What to Do When You’re Lacking Inspiration
Abandon writing completely
This may sound paradoxical, but it works. The thing is, when you get writer’s block, you can’t stop thinking about writing. What people don’t seem to realize is that creativity is like your sex drive: the more you try to force it out or fake it, the more pathetic and disappointing is the result. The best thing you can do is to put your “I’m a writer” identity aside, and just chill out. Do something completely unrelated to writing: go jogging, take a walk with your dog, hook up with friends you haven’t seen for months because you’ve been so absorbed with “finishing that chapter already.” Try to not worry about losing your creativity or drive for writing. If you’re a creative person, it will all come back as soon as the resource is replenished.
Allow yourself to write poorly
Often, the problem of not being able to write comes from having high expectations. “If I don’t write like Hemingway, it’s all for nothing.” Well, if you write to be like someone, it is all for nothing. If you write because you have something to say, then you have a chance. Allow yourself to be imperfect. Give up your ambitions to win writing contests, become famous, and sell thousands of copies all around the United States (or wherever you live). Give up everything that can be accomplished by the act of writing. Write for yourself, write for fun. Instead of thinking of how to make the story more interesting and intriguing over and over again, treat your writing as a game: “Hey, what if I make this character do this random thing, and then see what comes out of it?” Tell yourself: “I’m going to craft the worst piece of writing in my whole career,” and just stop worrying about how you put words together, whether they make sense, and all that. When you have fewer obligations related to writing, your brain will stop seeing it as a burden, and you will be able to enjoy the process once again. And creativity is often where enjoyment is.
Experiment with the flow of your consciousness
Except for those cases when you’re drunk or exhausted beyond limit, your mind constantly thinks of new things. Even when you spend your third hour on your laptop, spacing out in front of the empty screen, you have thoughts. They may have no connection to what you’re trying to write about, but it doesn’t matter. Write them down. Write them all down. Type as fast as you can; don’t let yourself stop and think over a single word. The key is to just pour everything out of your head. Never edit what you’ve written this way. Never let yourself evaluate the aesthetic value of such writing; its sole purpose is to break through the wall you’ve built around yourself. At some point, you’ll notice that: a) some nice texts can be actually written this way, and without enormous effort; b) you can apply this technique to your “main” writing tasks; c) you’re once again able to write and come up with original ideas.
Draw mind maps
A mind map is a great invention. I bet you know how to make them (this video covers the basics of mindmapping, so you might want to get started here), but you’ve never actually done it. Well, you should, because what mind maps do is map your associations; you write down a word, then an association to it, then an association to that association, and so on. As a result, you end up with a sheet of paper fully covered with ideas and concepts you would never come up with, were you thinking in a regular manner. More importantly, you’re actually able to see the connections between these ideas; sometimes, whole story plots, scripts, and novels can be born this way.
Seriously, there’s no such thing as stealing in creative jobs. You can take someone’s concept, enhance it in any way you see necessary, and it will be a new concept – yours! Of course there is plagiarism, when you just blatantly use the ideas of other people pretending they are yours, but this isn’t what I’m talking about. I dare you to borrow ideas from other writers. You run into an interesting plot twist? Pay attention not to the twist itself (like, “…and then James found out that Sarah cheated on him with his brother”), but to the mechanics of it, the principle that makes it a twist, and then modify this mechanics. For instance, a modified principle for a twist described above can look like, “A person whom character A trusts is an impostor, who takes away all that is dear to A. in the end.” This is just a rough example, but I hope you get the point.
Brainstorm with your friends
Offer them a game: everyone sits in a circle, and spits out the ideas they have on the thing you’re currently trying to write. Any idea is acceptable, even the most degenerate one. You’re not allowed to criticize or reject the ideas – just as some kind of an all-embracing divine entity, you should accept everything that comes in your direction. Ask your friends’ permission to record the brainstorming process, since you won’t be able to recall all the suggestions later. The point of such an activity is to bombard yourself with opinions and ways of thinking that are completely different from your habitual ones. Often, you can fish out an idea or two for your novel or whatever project you happen to be working on at the moment. Just don’t forget to credit the people who helped you.
Substances are not your friends
Don’t do drugs. You know, there’s this image of a creative person as some weird recluse locking themselves up in their studio/basement/whatever, sniffing coke, and working like a maniac 24/7. Forget about it. Drugs don’t give you ideas; drugs rob your creativity.
Take a walk outside
The best case scenario would be to go hiking, wander around the woods, sit at the ocean shore and throw stones into the water, or something like that. For some reason, our minds tend to get much calmer when we’re connected with nature. Personally, I believe this is because nature had been the environment in which ancient people spent their whole time, so on the genetic level, every time you have a walk in nature it is something like returning home after a long journey.
Spend some time unloading your brain
This is a good way to unload your mind quickly. It is not some kind of meditation, but rather a trick that helps you get rid of the thoughts and take a breath in. The whole thing takes about two minutes, so it won’t obstruct your daily routines. Sit in a chair and relax your muscles. Defocus your sight, and find two spots in the space to the left and right of you, which you can concentrate on. Don’t stare at these spots directly – just be aware of their presence, keep your attention on them. Then find two spots in the space to the up and down, and do the same thing. For a minute or so, try to simultaneously pay attention to all four spots in the space, with your sight defocused, and muscles relaxed. Doing this once in a while is like pressing a soft reset button in your brain, so it may help you find inspiration for your writing.
Many people nowadays tend to see meditation as some kind of panacea: any blog about creativity and writing in particular has this point. “Meditate, and your problems will go away,” or “Meditate, and your mind will flow freely again.” I actually hate the fact that meditation has become a part of pop-culture, because its purpose and process are much deeper than Western people might imagine. But anyways, meditation works: it does free your mind, which means more creative freedom and stuff. The trick is that it’s not like a pill: you must be really persistent in practicing meditation in order to feel any of its effects. If you’ve read all those articles about the wonderful life-changing effects of meditation, you know that those are the results of at least half a year of daily practices. If you feel like it’s your thing, go for it.
Have your sleep schedule figured out
Going to bed at 5 am, then waking up at 3 pm, then going to sleep at 3 am and sleeping up to 12 pm and so on – won’t do you any good, unless you’re still are in your teen years. For those who are older than twenty-five: a carefully planned and protected sleep routine is your best friend. You should go to bed at the same time every day, and train yourself to wake up at the same time every day as well. Usually, we need about eight hours to have a good rest, but since every person is different, your task is to figure out how much sleep you personally need to feel refreshed and productive. Once you do this, set yourself a schedule, and stick to it no matter what. Soon, your body will adjust to your schedule, and you’ll have no problem falling asleep or waking up. This matters a whole lot when you make your living by writing or any other creative job. A well-rested body and mind are capable of wonders: you feel better, you think more clearly, you generate unique ideas more often – isn’t it worth giving up doing whatever you usually do at 3 am?
Pay attention to the world around you
Based on personal experience, I can say that writer’s block gets worse when I’m totally absorbed with “just finishing that damn chapter no matter what.” I’d spend days in front of a blank page, trying to force words and images out of my head. This is the wrong way to write. Instead, don’t lock yourself in; go outside. Walk down the streets; listen to people talking to each other. Go to a cafe full of people, order some coffee, and just delve into the humming and murmuring of voices around you. People talk about all kinds of things, starting from the color of a new nail polisher and ending up with politics on Christmas Eve – just by listening to these talks, you may run into stories that inspire you, freak you out, disgust you or make you happy, amazed, and so on. In just a week of such exercises you’ll discover that you’ve gathered enough material for your story, or that your head is now full of impressions that you can convert into creative energy.
This rule does not apply to just conversations other people have. Look at the world with your eyes (no matter how weird this might sound). Notice the dusks and dawns, and sparrows freezing on your windowpane during long and moist New York winters, and the sound ocean waves make when ramming into concrete breakwaters, and hear trains whistles in the distance. You don’t have to make up images and descriptions for your writing – they’re all around you.
You probably read a lot; there are little to no writers – and I’d rather say, “no writers at all,” who don’t enjoy reading. Reading isn’t just about filling your mind with new ideas; it’s also about researching how other writers solve the same problems you face, or how they play out scenarios similar to those present in your story; how they develop characters; how their style is different from yours and what makes it so; what makes them more (or less) successful than you; and so on. A book written by someone else can serve you as a roadmap for your own writing; after all, there have been no new plots in literature since forever, so everything that’s written is just a recombination and interpretation of already existing storylines. So why not learn something new from how others do writing?
Watch more movies
As a writer, you must accumulate impressions. As a human being, your strongest channel of perception is sight. This is just how evolution made us: you see something and it stays with you for years; you hear something and you forget about it in a couple of days. Besides, our thinking is often visual as well; we tend to think in images. When you work on a description for your story, do you just put the words together, or do you imagine something, picture the scene in your mind first, and then look for words to describe what you’ve seen? I bet you do the latter. So why not fill your mind with beautiful visual references? Movies and art are the best ways to do it. Open your eyes and look at everything beautiful. Gather a library of visual references in your brain, to which you will always be able to refer. When you need to describe, say, a mysterious old castle, you’ll remember one from Dracula with Bela Lugosi; when you need a combat scene, you’ll remember the disembarkation in Normandy from Saving Private Ryan; when working on portraits of stylish, decadent characters, your memory will supply you with images from Only Lovers Left Alive. Besides, if the movie is good, you can always find ideas for a plot twist or two.
Copy the style of the writers you love
I personally adore Jack Kerouac’s writing style; there’s a legend (I don’t know whether it’s true) that he used to make long scrolls out of standard sheets of paper taped together, so that he didn’t have to “reload” his typewriter all the time, and could focus on the stream of his consciousness. And many of his novels are like that: words flow, float, and transform one into another; it’s like a kaleidoscope of images and thoughts glued together in long but weightless sentences. Anyway, I always tried to evoke this manner for myself; of course, there’s no way you can just copycat your favorite writer 100% precisely, but in trying to follow their writing style, you’ll be able to find your own unique voice.
Go to a new place
This is such typical advice that I’m a bit of ashamed to put it on the list. Traveling always provides new impressions, new people, new situations, and new challenges. All of them stimulate your brain, break your regular thinking patterns, and reinvigorate your creativity. Take a break and go to a place you’ve never been before. This is often a huge boost for your mind and inspiration.
Read inspirational quotes and lists like this one
Other writers talking about the writing process can be a valuable source of information on how to deal with the ordeals you might be going through right now, be it writer’s block, a lack of motivation, or something else. Sometimes, a simple quote may be so inspiring that just like Archimedes you will run into a brilliant idea and yell “Eureka!” The same goes for inspirational lists; sometimes, simple things discussed in them may be beneficial.
Take a shower, exercise, have sex, or engage in some other kind of pleasant physical activity
Living inside of your mind is exhausting – and this is what we writers do. We probe our minds for hours, hoping to find something new. It’s just like how single men often approach refrigerators: they open it, glance inside, find nothing new to eat, and close the door – only to repeat it all in half an hour. When you come out of your mind and pay attention to your body, you let your head rest – and when it is well-rested, it rewards you with ideas, uplifted mood, boosted creativity, and other nice things.
Dreams can be a powerful source of inspiration, if you know how to use them
Personally, I like to use the images from my dreams to convey certain mood. For instance, I remember having one dream often: I would find myself standing in the middle of an abandoned construction yard; rusty cranes, mud and dirt everywhere, rain pouring from the murky leaden sky, and not a single soul around. I’m all alone at that construction yard, and in my dream I know nothing will ever change. I wake up, shake my head trying to get rid of the uncanny feeling of abandonment and desolation, and immediately write the dream down. Later, I used the record to reconstruct that feeling in myself, and convey it on paper.
Converse with other writers
Thank God it’s the 21st century, so you can find and contact anyone you want. Google online and offline communities of writers in your town, and go there. Not only is this a way to make new friends and useful acquaintances, it’s also a source of experience and new ideas.
In the end, I’d like to give you just five more tips. They’re super-short and not as detailed as all those listed above, but they can serve as reminders, since they’re easy to memorize, and they incorporate the recommendations above. Here they are:
- Have a good rest.
- Meet new people.
- Live outside of your head.
- Learn from the best writers.
I hope that whatever obstacles you might be dealing with on your writer’s path, these hints will be able to guide you through. Good luck, and keep on writing!