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    Why Waiting for Writing Inspiration is a Fool’s Game

    writing inspiration - man waiting

    How long is it now that you’ve been a writer?

    A year? Five years? A decade or more?

    Perhaps you don’t even realize that you are a writer, or maybe you’re not sure if you should be claiming such a thing. But here’s a tip – if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a writer. Whether you know it or not.

    I’ve been a writer for years. Dating well back into my school days – if not my entire life. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do; in some ways it’s what I’ve always known I’m meant to do. Sure, I’ve dabbled in other ideas, called myself by other names, even made a living doing other things (most of the time, actually). But despite all that, writing is my true passion.

    But if you’re thinking this means I’ve been well and truly published and publicized, then you’d be wrong. The truth is that, until recently, the past 15 years has seen me do little more than reach critical acclaim from my school English department, publish a few magazine articles, and maintain fairly regular entries into my journal. Over the past year I’ve built my blog to the point where I’m now gaining new readers daily, but still – all that combined doesn’t really account for enough, does it?

    How about you? Can you relate? If so, then here’s the million-dollar question – perhaps literally if it means you finally get off your butt.

    If you are a writer, then why is that you don’t write consistently? I mean, let’s be honest here. I know I’m not the only one who has had weeks, even months, pass by with no new material to show.

    So how often do you write? Or – more importantly – do you write as much as you’d like to? I’m not talking about issues of time, you understand. After all, we both know that even 10 minutes each day can pay off over the course of a year. No, what I’m asking about is the regularity with which you follow through on a commitment to yourself and put pen to paper (so to speak) despite not having anything in mind to write about.

    Despite the fact that you’re completely devoid of inspiration.

    Because that’s what it often comes down to, isn’t it? That elusive something which so ruthlessly governs the success or failure of many an artist. When I think about it, I can attribute the vast majority of missed writing time to the fact that I simply did not feel inspired. And, let’s face it; I hate to think of myself as somebody who is controlled by a mere emotion. Don’t you?

    Recently I came across the blog of a rather successful fiction author. Every so often, she’d included a post geared toward fellow writers rather than readers, and one of those posts really spoke to me. The author was talking about writer’s block, and she wrote the following –

    Sometimes, you have to sit at the keyboard and really fight tiredness, sometimes it’s a case of putting your fingers on the home keys and squeezing out one letter, then another, then another until you have a word, until you have a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter. This often requires you to conquer the demons who say, bugger this, I’m not inspired today, I’ll write double tomorrow, I’m off to the shops/ down the pub/ to the sofa for a quick snooze and a bit of daytime TV.

    Nothing profound there, but it sure hits home, doesn’t it?

    It’s time to stop waiting for the creative genius to hit, and to simply start doing. To prove (if to no-one else but ourselves) that we are, in fact, writers. Because like it or not, the truth is that it’s not really fair to call ourselves writers unless we are, in fact, writing. Wouldn’t you agree?

    I’ve been gradually introducing this concept into my life over the past 18 months, and I’m starting to really notice its power. You see I’ve discovered something so wonderful, so marvelous, and so very unexpected, that I truly believe it’s the key to success. However you might define that. Here it is –

    You don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike in order to be inspired. When you start writing regularly, without inspiration or even an idea,  inspiration gradually finds you.

    Ideas slowly trickle into your mind. And before you know it, you’re infused with passion and carried away in that magical state of ‘flow’ where the world fades away and nothing matters but you and the words in front of you. I guarantee that this will happen for you if you choose to be persistent.

    Because the truth is that something as mundane and oft resisted as building a habit actually works. It becomes the fuel to your furnace. When you act as though you’re a writer, you become a writer. Your creative genius has been there all along – as a matter of fact, it’s there right now. Waiting for you. It’s just that it’s a little shy and most of the time you have to tempt it out of hiding.

    But here’s where you really need to listen up.

    I cannot tell you how crucial it is that you don’t put this off any longer, because it works the opposite way as well. The longer you spend waiting for the genius, hoping that today will be the day you’re hit with a brilliant and unique idea, but in the meantime doing anything but inviting that genius into your life, the less likely the chances of it appearing.

    And before you know it, you’ll forget that you ever were a writer. You’ll convince yourself that writing is unsustainable as a career and not that important even as a hobby. You’ll forget what it’s like to finish a great piece and bask in the knowledge that you’ve created something out of nothing. That this is what you were meant to do; that it gives you energy for every other part of your life. And you’ll tell yourself that it obviously wasn’t right for you.

    But the good news? There’s still time. You can still be that person. It’s never too late, but yet why would you wait any longer? If a writer is who you say you are, then it’s time to step up and prove it. It’s up to you how you go about doing that, but here are a few ideas that may start you off:

    1. Writing retreats

    A writing retreat is simply a 2 or 3-day period of time where you lock yourself away from the world and commit yourself to writing and everything writing-related. This could include brainstorming or mind mapping, daydreaming, catching up on blogs such as this one and connecting with other writers, but at least 4-5 solid hours each day should be designated to the art itself. A writing retreat could be as simple as you in your study with the door closed, or as varied as inviting a few like-minded friends to join you for a country getaway. You might also like to consider making a commitment with online friends and touching base every few hours throughout your retreat.

    2. 30-day challenge

    The 30-day challenge is one of my favorite methods for building or rejuvenating any habit. I came across the idea on Zen Habits at the beginning of this year. Leo’s challenge to his readers was to commit to 30 days of doing ‘first things first’ – for at least 10 minutes. For me, that meant no emails, no text messages, no social networking, nothing except writing for a minimum of 10 minutes as soon as I switched the computer on. I managed to make it 30 days straight and I can’t even begin to tell you the impact this made. I’m quite sure the quality of my content improved; certainly my subscribers increased, but most importantly of all I felt incredibly inspired and full of pride at keeping this small commitment to myself. I strongly suggest you instigate a 30-day personal challenge at least twice each year.

    3. Weekly writing day

    The weekly writing day is perfect for maintenance of your writing career when you have another full-time job or equivalent responsibilities. It’s all about what works for you, but in this case you may find that rather than frantically trying to squeeze in a few words each day it pays more to set aside an entire day or 2 half days each week to ‘batch process’ your writing. I’ve been trialing this for a month now, pre-writing all my personal blog posts on a Saturday. I’ve found it gives me a great sense of control over the week ahead, and also frees me up to be creative with guest posts and new ideas.

    I hope I’ve given you some small motivation towards harnessing your own inspiration. Even more so, I hope that next time either of us is asked how long we’ve been a writer, we can answer with truth and with pride and feel pretty darn good about it. In the meantime, tell me this – what do you do to invite inspiration into your writing and your life? I’d love to hear what has/hasn’t worked for you.

     

    About the author

      Kat Eden

      Kat Eden is a Personal Trainer and blogger from Melbourne, Australia. Visit her blog BodyIncredible.com.

    • Catching up on my blog reading–this was a really well written post that was a joy to read. Thanks.

    • Dana says:

      30 Day Challenges have kicked my butt into gear on many projects. Your suggestions are right on target. I look forward to reading more from you.

    • Kristin says:

      Hi Kat,

      Thank you for an inspiring blog. That elusive thing Inspiration… It is very interesting to study the way we have regarded inspiration throughout history. Check out this video:

      http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

      You ask what your readers do to invite inspiration into their writing. The number one thing that inspires me is reading. Reading good books or blogs. The next thing is travel. Writing stems from a deep-rooted need in the human being to narrate. We especially feel this when we are subjected to new impressions. Sometimes I can’t afford travelling. Then I “travel” in my own surroundings, I go to museums or galleries, I take my camera for a walk and photograph stuff. Sometimes I have an inspiring talk with a friend or family member. Or I play the piano to get in touch with my passions more strongly. And from that comes the writing.

    • This is an excellent and inspiring post. I am trying to get back into the online writing habit. It’s difficult because it seems to use a different muscle than my paper journaling. Still, I could wait till the perfect entries come or I could just start writing. I decided to do the latter.

    • Gerlaine says:

      I find that writing comes easiest to me after I just come in from exercising or making a run to do something exciting or meet someone exciting. I find many writers experience block, because they are sitting bored all day.

    • Lindsay says:

      I have been thinking about what space I carve out for writing a lot lately so this was helpful. Thanks! In fact, I wrote an essay about this very topic recently posted to the StoryStudio Chicago blog/online magazine Cooler By the Lake http://cooler.storystudiochicago.com/index.php/listen_up/comments/643/

    • BigW says:

      This paragraph applies to me completely:

      “…before you know it, you’ll forget that you ever were a writer. You’ll convince yourself that writing is unsustainable as a career and not that important even as a hobby…That this is what you were meant to do; that it gives you energy for every other part of your life. And you’ll tell yourself that it obviously wasn’t right for you.”

      I’ve been passionate about writing for years, but this past summer that passion left me. It’s completely gone. Creatively I feel dead inside. I hope to find my way again…

      BigW

    • Ernest says:

      Kat,
      Thanks for this article. I am finally getting off my buns and starting the book that has been in my head since high school.

    • Hi all

      I’ve just put in a comment about Natalie Goldberg elsewhere on this site-
      then I read this post. Brilliant! Couldn’t agree more.

      I have managed to post something on my blog each week without fail for a whole year – can’t quite believe it! Having written also, on and off, all my life, 2008 was the year when I finally got it together as a writer.

      That brilliant, inspiring writer on writing, Natalie Goldberg, was a huge help in keeping me focused. Here is the link to read my intro to her work :
      http://anne-whitaker.com/category/writers-are-you-now-or-have-you-ever-been-distracted/

      Best wishes
      Anne Whitaker
      ‘Writing from the Twelfth House’

    • When I’m stuck I’ll stand up and leave the room for 5 minutes…
      I’ll entertain my 1 year old daughter, admire the birds in the backyard and walk back to the table to write. I’ll think about something totally different then before I walked out of the room. It almost always works.

      Klaus Tol

    • Omar says:

      I get inspiration from anger, sadness and happiness. The experiences I go through in life fuels my inspiration. I know the feeling when your not inspired to write. The causes can be a varitey of things such as burnout, hunger or lack of rest. But a person must keep writing to become proficient.

    • Stan says:

      You hit me right in the gut with this one.
      I’ve learned the hard way to stop waiting for inspiration and just write.

      So now, I write like my life depended on it. If I come up empty, I open my swipe file and start copying until the muse makes an appearance.

      Excellent stuff here

    • Kat Eden says:

      @ Lori – I LOVE that idea. The 10-minute tool is already one I use regularly, but I hadn’t thought so far as to pre-write ’10-minute topics’. Thanks!

      @ Chaitanya – On a good day I can complete a post in 30-40 minutes, but it would be shorter than this one, and that would only be true if I didn’t need to research links. This particular post took me an hour or so for the first draft (not fully complete), another hour to finish and re-edit it, and then I re-read it a couple times. Which I always try to do. I guess my average is an hour per post.

      @ Janet – that’s something I need to do more of, I tend to put pressure on myself to finish whatever I started rather than just freeing up my head-space with a different type of writing.

      @ AnotherGuy – ambitious (but excellent) idea. I’d be interested to know what sort of topics you are using as jumping off points each day, and how this fits in with the varied blog themes of your readers …

    • Kinsey says:

      Thanks so much for the awesome words. It gives much food for thought! This is something I’ve struggled with (like so many others) and you provide great ideas on kick-starting the brain. And now, I’m off to write!

    • Thanks Kat. I’ve been buried under a lot of serious subject copywriting of late and keep telling myself I need to make time for some ‘me’ writing, but never get around to out. It was 6am when I read your post. It’s now 7.14am You just inspired me to unleash an hour of warped creative babble onto a poor unsuspecting Word doc. Damn that felt good.

      Cheers!
      Simon

    • chaitanya says:

      Nice page. Dropped in to say hi and ask how long does it take for you to write a blog post ? Like the one I am commenting on. an hour? 2 hours?

    • AnotherGuy says:

      I’ve started a daily writing experiment on my site for my readers to take part of. It goes right along with what you are saying here, but I am taking it a bit further by trying to build a strong community around the idea and get more people involved.

      It would be great for others here to learn about the experiment, as I only have so many readers that are interested in the experiment. A Daily writing assignment is certainly a bit much for some people, but for most of us we are already in the habit of doing that anyway (or want to be).

      At any rate, check it out and tell me what you think. Would be very cool to have more people take some action with it.

      http://anotherguy.us/102/the-writing-experiment/

    • Janet O says:

      When I get a block, I do a different type of writing: poem, article instead of novel, novel instead of assignment at hand, writing down notes from research materials, blogging. Whatever the writing IS, I find it gets the images and words going and I’m back on track.

      GOAL: revise novel

    • Steve Hall says:

      Perfect! I really, REALLY needed this, and I needed it today. Sorry for the short length (oxymoron ftw!) of this comment, but I need to get over to my blog and start writing!

    • One effective trick I use is to make a list of writing I can do in ten minutes – journal prompts, blog ideas, describe a character, describe a setting, write and arguement between characters,etc. Then, when I’m tired or short on time, I don’t have to wait for inspiration, I just turn to the list and pick the next one. Brick by brick, one novel is completed in the midst of marriage, homeschooling children, working part-time, sick parents, friends, church, etc. My ten minute list is a vital tool to keep me writing every day.

    • Michael says:

      Oh how I identify, it’s now 2:30 am in South Africa I have to be up in a few hours and have been fiddling at a few writing projects for hours now still waiting for the lightning bolt. What normally helps me is the fact that I have two blogs and third I contribute to and being able to choose from very diverse topics helps but I’vve painted myself in a corner and need to write a very specific piece… Instead I’m commenting on a blog post. Ah well it’s all part of what I love about this writing game. As long as you keep writing you’re a writer. Now if only I could start becoming a better writer …

    • Chloe says:

      This article is exactly what I needed right now. I haven’t written a thing in a couple of months, and before I wrote that short story I hadn’t written anything in around six months.

      Thank you so much!
      –Chloe

    • Russell says:

      @Kat — Oh, and I approach the exercises without expectations on quality or content. I save them, reread as time permits, and I mark any passages that either read relevant to my current writing or could germinate into another story. So as you’ve said, the mechanics of doing work often surfaces the inspiration we otherwise seek.

    • Every word written deserves attention. Days go by without writing an article or a blog entry, yet thousands of words appear on notes, email messages, the whiteboard in my office, thank you notes, and client-meeting observations.

      The idea of writing ten minute blog entries before any other activity, stirs my imagination.

      No matter how many words are written a day, every thought begins in my mind and heart. Every word, sentence, and paragraph, no matter how incidental, expresses something important to me and to the reader.

    • Sorry for the double post. And the fact that both still have typos. Feel free to delete as needed. 🙂

    • So true! Excellent post!

      As someone who is not ust a writer but has also lost over 100 pounds, I find myself being asked about “motivation” to lose the weight all the time (which works out in the same way as “inspiration” for writers does). And my answer is always the same. Don’t wait for motivation! The motivation (or inspiration, whatever you want to call it) will come to you AS YOU DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE. If I had waited for the motivation to strike, I’d still be fat.

    • So true! Excellent post!

      As someone who is not ust a writer but has also lost over 100 pounds, I find myself being asked about “motivation” to lose the weight all the time (which works out in the same way as “inspiration” for writers does). And my answer is always he same. Don’t wait for motivation! The motivation (or inspiration, whatever you want to call it) will come to you AS YOU DO WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE. If I had waited for the motivation to strike, I’d still be fat.

    • Kat Eden says:

      Truth be told, I feel more inspired reading all these comments than I have in quite some time. Thanks everyone!

      @ Pamela – you bring up a great point and something I forgot to mention; the idea of using all senses for inspiration. That could be point #4 – get out there and explore new sights, tastes, sounds, or just meet new people.

      @ Dean – deadlines definitely work. I’d like to think I can get to a place where I don’t need to operate on a schedule, but the truth is that even a weekly or fortnightly deadline can help spark ‘bonus’ writing in between.

      @ Russell – the only time I ever tried writing exercises was with the book “The Artists Way”. I didn’t stick at it long and I can’t for the life of me think why now. Thanks for the reminder! Oh – @Janice – just realized we’re talking about the same book there. I think that’s why – I got sick of the morning pages once my vacation ended.

      @Ali – wow. Congratulations! And thank you so much for the compliment; it means a lot to me.

    • Great post Kat, really a wrtiter shouldn’t wait for an inspiration you have to go after it. The point is, you can find ideas almost anywhere.
      Thanks for the post.

    • Alyson says:

      My husband sent me this link – Boy, did I need to read it! I may be making excuses, but I’ve found that my writing habit has all but disappeared since I started my blog. The truth is if I had to choose between writing my blog posts or getting writing done that will work towards inspiration and possible finished pieces, I will have to choose the latter. That’s not as scary as it sounded in my head. Thanks!

    • Love the first things first idea – thanks!

    • I don’t know about anyone else here, but I have trouble writing anything if it’s not important. So I can’t just sit and write in a journal. I need the pressure of a deadline and an audience who will actually read what I write.

      I write a lot because I have to. I owe articles to trade magazines and websites. I have client deadlines. I have a schedule to follow on my blogs.

      My advice would be to create real writing commitments, such as a column for a local paper, regular guest posts on a website, or whatever. If someone is waiting for your words, you’ll write them.

    • Russell says:

      Thanks much for the post. Very timely. I’m pushing through some speed bumps in my fiction writing, so reading your post helps lift the spirits a little.

      For those interested, I practice writing exercises every day — even if I don’t have time to work on my main stuff. I’ve found an iTunesU series which promotes writing through the exercise of play, but mostly I stick to my handy nonfiction by Dufresne. I usually choose an exercise of his that seems relevant to one of my problem areas, then I write until my timer sounds. Though it can feel mechanical, I figure the less stress I put toward the mental ordering of writing as a task then the better I can do it. Here’s to good hopes.

    • Chris Cade says:

      After having just launched my program all about writing, and spending so much energy in the marketing, production, system, efforts with that… this post comes at a wonderful time and a perfect reminder that it’s time to once again, do some serious damage by putting pen to paper 😉

      Next stop, a spiritual children’s book!

    • Pamela says:

      I couldn’t agree more. When I’m not searching for inspiration, that’s when it comes to me.

      I usually like to hang out with close friends to talk, catch up and vent. It’s the time to let loose and relax. But I usually find it to be the time where I suddenly become energetic and passionate about something. Or I learn something about myself through my friends. Or I learn about something new about the world. These moments inspire me to go home and write in my Journal. (This usually happens on a Friday or Saturday night at 2 am).

      To be inspired, however, it’s important to surround yourself with people, read, look, taste, smell and listen. If you sit on the couch glued to reality shows, it’s not going to happen.

    • geoffrey says:

      Nice blog post.

      “You don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike in order to be inspired. When you start writing regularly, without inspiration or even an idea, inspiration gradually finds you.”

      This is particulary relevant to me and my writing. Once I sit and start looking at a work in progress, rereading and wondering what comes next, I almost always get inspired. I always keep a separeate list of story ideas, vignettes, verbal sketches handy when I write. When I’m working on some detail of the story at hand and I get a flash of an idea, I scurry over to the “Idea list” and jot it down. Later when I’m stuck on my main piece or just have some extra time to write, I’ll refer to that list and it sends me off.

    • Great Suggestsions Kat!

      One thing that helps me write when I don’t feel like writing is to focus on my overall purpose for writing. Even when I’m not motivated, my purpose often pushes me forward. As Nietzsche said, “He who has a why can endure almost any how.”

    • Kristen says:

      This entry has inspired me to write today, whether it was intended or not. 🙂

    • janice says:

      I enjoyed this, Kat. Thank you.

      Two things help me: I write haiku and tanka, which means as long as I’m alive and aware, engaged and present, there will always be something to write a few lines about. I also enjoy conversations with my inner self. That’s why Julia Cameron’s oldie but goodie of writing pages in a notebook every day works for me. I can’t always do the morning pages she suggests, but daily pages of freefall writing are a must. It’s crucial that they involve no editing, and they’re different from moving a specific writing project forward, whether it’s an article or a novel.

      I think a lot of folk get stuck because the term ‘writing’ is huge, but it helps me to break it down into loads of enjoyable components, depending on what mood I’m in.

      Some days, all I manage are heart felt comments on blogs, but they often go on to form the seeds of pieces. I also love collecting quotes, so reading a book with a quotebook in my hand is, for me, part of the writing process. So is eavesdropping in cafés and looking out of windows. When I’m going through decluttering phases in my home, I also find my editing skills get sharpened and more ruthless, too.

      A writer doesn’t just write; a writer sees the whole of life and living as fuel. Ebbing, flowing and fallow seasons are all a part of it.

    • Wellll… one can have a call for writing due to many different reasons. For me at times it pure work and at other times passion or a getting-something-out-of-my-system thingie 😛

    • I recently set myself a goal of writing 1500 words a day, 5 days a week, in addition to the regular 2 blog posts I do.

      I spent a good part of today writing a post, so I felt uninspired to work on anything else. Even though I really felt like putting it off until tomorrow, I went ahead and wrote what I could. I only made it to 300 words before I was obliged to stop, but now I feel totally ready to pick it back up tomorrow.

      So, something is always better than nothing.

      Great post. Thank you.

    • Rachel says:

      I love this post! There’s some great tips here. I already have a ‘writing day’ which is completely invaluable. I think I will try the others too.

      Many thanks!

    • Ali Hale says:

      Fantastic piece, Kat. I know you’re a dedicated writer – I see your name popping up all over the blogosphere!

      I really like your idea of writers’ retreat: this is something I’d like to put on my calendar next month!

      I’ve recently finished the (very rough) first draft of a 180,000 word novel. Nope, I definitely didn’t feel inspired every time I sat down to write! But I found that my initial resistance to writing – or uncertainty about writing – started to fade as soon as I put fingers to keyboard. My best ideas tend to arise *during* the writing process.

    • Perfect, accurate.

      You just have to write. And write well. I have a hard time believing that Alexander Dumas was “inspired” throughout the entire 1500 pages of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. But it never sags or rots; there are no moldy segments.

      We’re nearly always human. Those moments when we’re gods, when we’re inspired, are just there to remind us what we’re working at.

      NaNoWriMo in November. Weeee.


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