Have you ever logged onto your favorite website or turned on your favorite movie or TV show just so you could “get inspired?”
We have all probably done this at some point. We know ourselves pretty well, and we know the sorts of things that make us feel good. Being in a good mood isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for writing, but it definitely helps relieve stress and put you in the proper headspace to think clearly and get things done.
But is going after inspiration the best option? Perhaps, as long as you know the things that trigger inspiration for you personally, you won’t have to do any hunting.
Sometimes NOT writing is how inspiration manifests. This doesn’t seem like it would make any sense on the surface. If you’re supposed to be writing, why in the world would you do something else? Coming from someone constantly pushing creative productivity, it seems out of the box, I know.
And while it’s true that the simple act of writing can inspire you to continue writing — this is why I often recommend “write” as my cure-all for writer’s block — sometimes you have to walk away. Sometimes you have too many thoughts, you’re facing too many distractions, maybe you’re not in the right headspace for making words happen (hey … it happens).
There is nothing wrong with taking a mental break. In fact, it might be the best thing you can possibly do for your creative progress.
We’ll use washing dishes as an example here. It’s late in the day. You’re tired. You’ve tried and failed to start writing something three times already and you’ve (temporarily?) given up out of frustration. Away from your desk, you start doing random chores as your mind begins to wander. Maybe you fold some laundry. Take the trash out. And then you start doing the dishes.
Dishes are easy. No one really LIKES doing them, but not because they’re complicated. The best thing about doing the dishes is that you have to use both hands to do the chore (no getting distracted by Twitter), and you have a lot of time to let your mind wander while you complete quite possibly the most uninteresting task known to modern man.
And BOOM. That’s when it hits you. An idea! Maybe even a GOOD idea!
Then you have to deal with the whole “my hands are all soapy but I have to write this down or it’s going to disappear” problem, but hey, who’s complaining?
You don’t have to be doing something creative to become inspired — though it does help (I dance to inspire ideas, despite not being good at it — whatever works!). As long as it’s a task that takes you away from your screens and gives you some uninterrupted thinking time, it’s the perfect opportunity. Alternatives: A walk, a shower, organizing your bookshelves, you know, whatever.
Videos, podcasts, and other media can work — but don’t go hunting. I’ve lost count of how many podcast episodes have sparked new ideas just while I’m sitting at my desk editing articles from freelancers. Sometimes the most random thoughts and nuggets of information can inspire even more random — but occasionally very useful — ideas. Especially when you least expect it.
The problem with this is that many people make the mistake of “inspiration mining.” Basically, when they are feeling stuck or unmotivated and are having a hard time getting any writing done, they deliberately seek out things they expect to inspire them. They specifically go to YouTube to watch videos or deliberately turn on a podcast by a creator they know has inspired ideas for them in the past.
Unfortunately, most of the time, inspiration doesn’t work like that. If you’ve ever purposely looked for something that would “give you a good idea” only to find yourself an hour into your writing time with zero words written but many cat videos watched, there is a reason why. Ideas don’t like it when you come looking for them. They very much prefer to be the ones to seek you out first.
Usually what’s going to end up happening is that you will spend large amounts of time expecting an idea to form and come out the other side with nothing usable. You try to force an idea, and so nothing comes up. That’s neither helpful nor wise, and you’re just going to walk away more frustrated than you were before you wandered into your mind-cave expecting to find a gem.
These things can absolutely give you good ideas. But let them come naturally. Inspiration isn’t something you summon. It’s something that happens. Let it be a pleasant and wonderful surprise.
Set aside specific time for doing what inspires you. Some people have found that there are specific activities that put them in the perfect mood to receive random thoughts and ideas. Your preferred “thing” can be totally off the wall and hard to explain, or it can be something more common.
I, for example, know that going for a run always puts me in a good mood, which is when I’m most open to new ideas. I don’t go for a run when I “need to feel inspired.” Especially not when I’m supposed to be writing. But I know that after a run is a perfect time for me to sit down and let the words flow through me, so to speak.
So I make sure to schedule time for exercise in my daily schedule — for more reasons than just writing, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. I keep this time separate from my writing time and make sure I set aside the space for both. This way I know I am much more likely to sit down to write in the best mindset possible to get my work done.
If you know something specific inspires you — music, for example, or fresh air — see if you can set aside time for that shortly before you sit down to write. That way you’re less likely to have to stop in the middle of your writing time to “get inspired.” You’re already there. You’re ready to go when it’s time to go.
Inspiration is a strange thing. As much as we want to be able to bring it up on command, it doesn’t always work like that. Some of our best ideas show up unannounced when we least expect them to, and we just have to roll with it. As long as you know what kinds of things tend to set your mind at the right frequency, you can time things just right so that when you write, you’re not struggling as much to find the right words.
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.