Every strike of inspiration I can recall — many of which have led to fairly solid ideas, sometimes even Real World Things — happened upon me completely by accident.
Most of these moments have begun with me doing something completely unrelated to writing, such as taking a shower, cooking dinner, or watching a TV show during my designated “me” time.
I’m grateful for all the times I’ve been minding my own business and BOOM — an idea hurls its imaginary body directly into my chest and I’m on the ground and I can’t breathe but also NEW IDEA!!
Though most people don’t realize it, this is generally how ideas form. Inspiration — “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative,” says the dictionary — can technically be forced. But not in the ways you’ve probably tried to force it.
Let me know if this sounds familiar:
It’s 8 p.m. and you haven’t written anything in nearly a week. You know that today is the day you need to get serious (again). So you sit down and open your draft with a goal of writing 1,000 words before you call it quits. But after staring at that document for a minute or two, you realize you’re JUST NOT INTO IT. So you turn to your go-to “inspiration holes” on the internet — certain Pinterest boards, Instagram accounts, YouTube channels, and the like. Something you find is bound to get you to a point where you feel inspired enough to write. Right? You’ll just look around for five minutes … except five minutes turns into two hours and you still haven’t written anything and never did find that inspiration you were looking for.
Searching for things to inspire you is not the answer. It works the other way around.
I’m not going to take a shower every time I need an idea for a story. (I used to do this in college — take a shower every time I needed to think — and I still wonder how many gallons of water I wasted doing that.) I’m not going to cook a meal just so there’s a slightly higher chance I might have an idea.
And you definitely SHOULD NOT watch TV hoping it will give you an idea for your own story. I mean, that’s a great way to study stories in your downtime, but just … no.
If you deliberately go looking for inspiration, it is very likely that you will not find it. Rather, you’ll just end up wasting a lot of time hoping you will.
However, if you go about your day with open eyes and an open mind, paying close attention to the world around you and allowing your mind to wander freely in the quieter moments (taking a shower, cooking dinner), ideas will come to you often and you will be ready and willing to receive them.
Don’t frustrate yourself over and over starting a specific activity and expecting a miraculous result. It’s kind of like how they say you won’t find love when you’re looking for it. As soon as you turn around to focus your attention on something else, a stranger taps you on the shoulder, and the rest is history.
Ideas cannot be scheduled, herded, or summoned. They are wild spirits that come and go as they please. Your only hope for meeting one, befriending it, and making something amazing out of it is to live your life to the absolute fullest. Enrich your days. Don’t sit around waiting for good things to happen to you. Create opportunities for ideas to seek you out, and they will do just that. When they feel like it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.