As a writer, it’s ill-advised to wait for inspiration to strike you. Especially since inspiration only seems to strike at the most inopportune moments and places anyway, when you can’t take notes or jot down a short paragraph …
like when you’re in the shower or out for a run, or when you’re listening to an orchestra play in a crowded concert hall. Or when you’re doing pretty much anything but sitting in front of your computer or notebook.
Instead, you need to go out every single day, or at least on the days that you want to write, and work until you find it—inspiration.
“If you wait for inspiration to write you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.”- Dan Poynter
Here are a few ways to stay inspired as a writer; or as an ordinary human being, for that matter.
Read a lot. Read anything and everything.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
If you want to stay inspired to write, you must read on a regular basis. Reading inspires ideas for things to write about, as well as creativity.
Additionally, if you don’t read at all, you’ll never come across different writing styles or techniques that will inform and influence your own writing style or techniques. And you can’t write anything worth reading without first having a well-rounded understanding of the fundamentals of writing.
When you read another’s work, you’ll automatically think of things that you want to add to a conversation they’re having with others through their own writing, others who are writing about or care about the same topics or human concerns that you care about.
Similarly, to keep your own writing inspiring to others, you’ll want to read a variety of different things on a regular basis that inspires your own writing.
Reading only canonical texts or classics will keep you living in the past, with no tangible grip on current affairs, writing techniques, or what’s relevant to your audience (which one can confidently bet will be alive right now or in the future). Reading only contemporary pieces of writing will prevent you from understanding historical contexts or effective writing traditions. Reading only novels and short stories will thwart attempts at connecting with a real-life, popular audience and what keeps them up at night, tonight. And reading only nonfiction pieces will foil the most creative impulses and poetic techniques that resonate with real-life humans on a deep and lasting emotional level.
You get the idea here. Reading a lot is important, to remain engaged in the instruction and art of writing. And reading a diverse and well-rounded list of materials is important to generating more inspiring writing yourself.
It’s also important to note that your reading list won’t necessarily be a mirror image of your writing portfolio, and it probably shouldn’t ever be. But your reading list will always inspire the understanding of what you’re writing or want to write, whether you like it or not.
Consider, for example, how different writers writing articles about a current instance of genocide would be inspired in different ways after they read texts like Diary of Anne Frank, The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Beloved, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Legal Resources for the Nuremberg Trials, and current and archived media or newspaper articles about genocide.
“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” – William Faulkner
Experience art in all its forms.
Symphonies, operas, punk-rock concerts, abstract expressionist paintings, sculptures, beat poetry, musicals, movies, television dramas, neighborhood plays, murals, local history museum exhibits, conferences, photographs, video clips, digital designs, and other forms of art can all inspire the need to write about people, what they do or have done, what and who they care about, and their internal intricacies.
Whether you regularly open and view interesting images in a cloud-based file, visit museums every month, have season tickets to your local theater, or have paintings all over your walls, the way you experience art on a regular basis can and will inspire you to write, as well as influence what you write.
There is no such thing as “high art” or “low art,” only diverse assortments of human expression, which are all equally valid.
Even if you regularly write about Civil War topics from an academic or historical perspective, you might encounter a drawing that will inspire you to look at those topics from a completely different perspective as you’re exploring your local museum one day, for example, a new perspective that you’ll want to write about. And you should.
“The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.” – Auguste Rodin
Travel far and often. Go somewhere new or familiar. Experience nature.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. – Mark Twain
Travel as often as you can, to as far away as you can, to remain inspired to write. Especially if you need some inspiration to write about new things.
Go for a walk in your local park. Or go to your local library or coffee shop. And then pay attention to your surroundings, while remaining engaged and inquisitive, yet nonjudgmental.
Nature itself can also be inspiring and has been so to many writers throughout history. We wouldn’t have Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond or the works of Charles Darwin if it weren’t for natural settings.
If you really need inspiration and can’t travel far right now, then go look at the plants around your neighborhood, view the stars in your backyard at night, or go to crowded places near you to eavesdrop on fragments of conversations that passersby are having. Just get out and about and experience the world in whatever way you can at the moment.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust
Keep a journal or a diary.
“The habit of writing for my eye is good practice. It loosens the ligaments.” ― Virginia Woolf
Some days it will be easy to know what to write about and how to write about it. And other days it won’t be.
Keep a writing journal that contains topics to write about in the future and refer to it when needed. Include in this journal what you struggle with as you write, as well as your triumphs while writing. Include irrational or rational musings, hopes, and fears, as well as the mundanities of everyday life. Also, include impromptu writing exercises or writing prompts and reading notes. Essentially, include whatever you want, just write in it regularly and keep your writing personal.
It’s compelling how keeping a journal works for writers and their inspiration for writing.
Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal about her experience reading Virginia Woolf’s journal. She wrote:
“Just now I pick up the blessed diary of Virginia Woolf which I bought with a battery of her novels Saturday with Ted. And she works off her depression over rejections from Harper’s (no less! – – – and I hardly can believe that the Big Ones get rejected, too!) by cleaning out the kitchen. And cooks haddock & sausage. Bless her. I feel my life linked to her, somehow.” (Source)
Socialize with other writers and like-minded writers in-person and online.
Writers often believe that writing is a solitary act. But in the twenty-first century, this isn’t entirely the case, perhaps not even entirely possible anymore.
Written works now require and encompass researchers, editors, publishers, readers, designers, marketers, promoters, and many others. And they require the use of social media and online platforms if they’re to be read by others at all.
Like it or not, this is a fact of the current world we live in; a world in which social media and online platforms are imperative to getting anything written promoted, shared, and read at all—for both novices and well-established writers.
While some extreme introverts may loathe our current hyperconnected state of world affairs at times, they too must admit that it’s still a great place to find inspiration for writing, if they need it and want to find it.
We live in a world where fan fiction and crowd-sourced content are present and gaining traction and popularity every day, and a world in which it’s easier than ever to join a writing group or book club in-person or online.
It’s also easy to share inspiring reading and writing experiences across social media outlets and platforms. And luckily, we can use and tap into such resources and spaces to find inspiration for writing topics, techniques, prompts. Or to stay motivated to write.
Go to Goodreads, Meetup, or NaNoWriMo to gain insight into online and in-person ways to socialize with other writers right now. Or simply enter “book clubs near me” or “writing groups near me” into your search engine. You’ll instantly be connected to others who share your drive to write. And if you join the right groups, you’ll find the inspiration you need to write on a regular basis.
Yet it’s important to note that social environments and forums for finding inspiration for your writing are only helpful if you’re seeking it from others who are in the trenches too, especially those who are also writing and serious about it. Otherwise, the effects of socializing in order to find inspiration for writing can be adverse or nonsensical to your writing, and not inspiring at all.
“If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” – Brené Brown
It’s also extremely important to note that being around other writers who are keeping you motivated to continue the act of writing on a regular basis is very different from seeking out or subjecting yourself to their criticisms and editorial insights, which they may not be suitably equipped to do for what you’re writing. So, maintain caution when joining writing groups or book clubs, and leave them if they don’t keep you inspired to write on a regular basis.
Form and maintain good habits, routines, and rituals.
When you keep writing and reading habits, routines, and rituals, you hardwire yourself to get to work regularly and to get a lot of work done. (Especially when you don’t want to work or are extremely distracted, frustrated, stressed, or feeling anything else but bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.) And the more work you get done on a regular basis, the more inspired you’ll feel to continue to work.
Routines condition your subconscious mind and influence your daily behavior.
Even if you don’t have a routine that you currently like, you still have one. So, develop a routine that works in your favor and keeps you inspired to keep writing.
And rituals will help you focus your attention on writing, and help you maintain self-control to write. Whether you clean your desk off, drink a cup of coffee, or walk around the block before you write, each time you write, keeping a ritual that signals you to write will help you stay inspired to write on a regular basis.
Maya Angelou was known for checking into a hotel room before she would write. And Ernest Hemingway always started writing at dawn. While Virginia Woolf and others were known to stand at their desks when they started writing.
Read the following articles for more insight into the importance of maintaining good habits, routines, and rituals. They have a few examples of rituals and routines that you might want to follow yourself.
“I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.” – Elmore Leonard
In the end, it is through their best work and efforts (i.e. reading, traveling, enjoying art or music, and so on) that writers find inspiration, not the other way around.
In fact, the way we perceive how successful writers become inspired to write is, somewhat amusingly, backward. And regardless of what conventional posturing has most writers believing, successful writers don’t just sit around and wait for their next best ideas to find them.
Successful writers, instead, work diligently to become inspired, even if they don’t realize that they are doing so, because they enjoy their work which entails things like reading, visiting museums, and so on.
Novice writers are especially preoccupied with how to come by inspiration for their writing and writing processes, and they start to panic or become plagued with self-doubt when they’re not struck by jolts of inspiration on a regular basis. So, they wait for inspiration to strike them before they start writing anything. And then their waiting perpetuates even more waiting … and more waiting … and more waiting … until, inevitably, they become so blocked and frustrated, or so consumed by robust feelings of inadequacy or boredom that they don’t end up writing anything of consequence at all, ever.
Think of it this way. If you’re waiting to be randomly inspired by the next amazing idea to write about, it’s kind of like you’re waiting to be struck by an actual jolt of lightning.
It obviously seems absurd to wait around to be struck involuntarily by lightning, without warning. But a random jolt of inspiration that a writer experiences will similarly be excruciating, wily, short-lived, and most inconvenient because it is expected to be experienced involuntarily and out of his or her realm of control.
How does one plan for such a thing, or truly recognize when such “inspiration” has struck?
In addition, the odds of successfully being struck by a lightning jolt are around one in a million.
And lastly, lightning rarely, if ever, strikes in the same place more than once.
So, now that we’ve beaten that metaphor to death … it will hopefully be at the forefront of your mind the next time you believe that you are uninspired.
Essentially, as a writer, don’t wait for inspiration to find you or strike you. Instead, go out and find inspiration.
Do things that will inspire you to write.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King