Writer, Need Inspiration? Here Are Three Ways To Get It

If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve been there – the dark forest of writing.

There are no words here, no progress, only suffocating doubt and self-loathing. Every writer has experienced this before and just when we think this feeling will never surface it’s ugly face again, there it is.

Getting stuck is easy.

Stopping halfway through a book is normal.

But how do you get unstuck?

Are there elements that a writer can incorporate into their life so that these valleys are few and not as dark and deep?

coffee cup

Yes. Here are three ways to get inspired again. These will also reinforce the writer that is on the mountaintop of inspiration.

FIND A SCENIUS

Austin Kleon is a connector. He repackages ideas and makes them accessible. One of his ideas is described in his book Show Your Work!. It is the idea of Scenius

He claims that the lone genius myth is just that, falsehood. Writers, artists, and anyone that has achieved any level of success did that inside a community that fostered the pursuit.

Find a group of people that love writing and hang out with them. Online, in a bookstore, or come to the Jot Conference.

IF IT’S NOT WORKING DO DIFFERENTLY

Ever stop to examine your process? Ever come to the same worn out and unproductive conclusions after writing in the same place, with the same utensils, at the same time? Sounds like it’s time for you to make a change. 

Get up early or stay up late. Go for a walk and sit on a mossy log and write using physical instruments – paper and pen.

I was in the dark depths of writing for a while, then I began rising early and suddenly, even though I knew I was done as a writer, the passion for words flooded back. 

Often we need a break from monotony. A newness, a freshness to reinvigorate us on the writing road. Doing differently is a shock to the creative system.

CREATE MARGIN

We’re all busy. It’s the response to the question – how are you doing? Busy we say. Everyone has too much to do. Too many obligations. Too many service projects. Too many organizations to which we are committed. There is little time for joy, thrill, and novelty. Our weeks are planned out and we are sleeping five hours a night.

Most of the activities listed above are not bad things – save maybe the five hours of sleep a night – but we all need space. Our bodies need down time to rest and our brains and creativity wells need the same.

During a difficult season at my job where satisfaction was at an all time low I decided to incorporate a walk into my lunch. I grabbed a pen and notebook and began walking in the woods. I’d sit down on a bench, stare into the dark green forest or bare trees and snow covered earth and let the ideas come. I’d write them down if I thought they were worth keeping and sharing.

Don’t believe a walk is beneficial? C.S. Lewis loved walks. As did T.S. Eliot. It’s the white space where our brains rest and ideas can surface.

Today, if you need a little writing pick me up, I challenge you to find your own Scenius, do differently, or create some margin by saying no to one obligation this week.

Do you have tips for getting inspired? Share below.

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You Can Be Creative. Even If You Think You Are Not.

Have the words – I’m just not creative – ever come out of your mouth?

I hear them often and even apply these four words to me when I am in the dark forest of a project.

But is this a true statement?

Are some people born with a creative gene and the rest are not?

That sentence – I’m just not creative – should be abolished.

The idea that some elect individuals are born with a creative gene comes from the same people that believe writers are born. Would you believe that about a plumber, an electrician, or a doctor?

Absolutely not. Just ask Chuck Close. He was told he should aim for trade school and body and fender work in eighth grade.

These are terribly lies and limiting beliefs that keep us from living creative, fulfilling lives.

Creativity is only a name for aged, intentional practice.

I can’t count the times I have heard the phrase – I’m just not creative. I wish to stop this nonsense. If you say them to me I promise to be gracious. But remember, creativity is born out of diligent practice and exposure to new ideas.

You may have to read more difficult books and write down definitions of words you do not know to expand your vocabulary.

Perhaps it is time to tell that art teacher you know that you’ve always thought plein air painting was interesting, could they point you in the right direction?

Part of creativity is curiosity – looking for new ways of doing the same old stuff to reinvigorate or uproot established processes.

Ira Glass, famed radio personality and producer, was recorded saying that there is a gap between being a beginner and a professional in creative work. At the edge of the gap – this is where people stop.

We figure that’s it. I guess I’ll never become/attain/change ______.

Maybe you’ve stopped?

Stopped being brave or hopeful because creative work is not easy. We get frustrated with a process or even our own inability to create this great work that we know is harbored deep within.

I challenge you today, and this is just as much for me as it is for you, to examine your process. See what is in your way.

Do you need more practice?

Do you need exposure to creative ideas or people?

Are you doing the very same things that don’t challenge or inspire you and lead to the very same results?

What is in the way? What is creating that gap?

Here’s what Ira Glass has to say about The Gap:

 

Resistance, Chuck Close, & The Work Behind Our Art

Several months ago I felt creatively empty and faced a deadline. The horrible reality behind this toxic pairing is that I want to be a published author and meeting this deadline would cause this dream to come true.

Have you ever been in this place? It’s very different from procrastination and similar to writers block. But the source of the emptiness – that was what I was after. I wanted to be through this barrier, or resistance as Steven Pressfield labels it, once and for all.

I decided to wade deep into the exhaustion. I was surprised by the answer I found.

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Photo Credit: cellar_door_films via Compfight cc
During a sermon a few weeks ago my pastor mentioned the artist Chuck Close. I’d never heard of him before (being more obsessed with writers) so I looked him up. My interest  piqued when a quote from him was offered.

It went like this:

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us show up and get to work. Every great idea I’ve ever had grew out of work itself – Chuck Close on Notes to Younger Self.

He delivers it in this youtube clip. I highly recommend you watch it below.

The showing up and getting to work is the hardest part of any endeavor that asks us to deliver our best self. Raising kids, doing quality work at our jobs, or finishing a chapter in a book.

The simple and troublesome answer to my emptiness, was to get up and put the time in.

After many hours and much word worrying, I turned in my first draft. Then my second four days after I received my revisions. I received an approval from the editor just days ago. The chapter I wrote will be included in a book to be released this autumn.

I don’t know where you are in your writing, painting, or parenting journey. I don’t pretend to have answers to make you feel warm and fuzzy nor to ensure you that everything will be perfect on the other side.

The point is, I showed up and gave myself a chance for success to happen. If you’re stuck in the pit of blackness maybe meeting a tiny goal, like writing for ten minutes a day, is all that is required?

I assure you the odds of success or getting through the turmoil with all of your limbs will improve immeasurably.

Been struggling or made it to a finish line? Share your story or celebrate your victory in the comments section below.

Overcome The Uninspired Feeling Once And For All

One of my favorite writers is Steven Pressfield.

Though I don’t know him personally, he’s taught me many truths through his books. Not cute, fun truths, but tough in-your-face ones.

If I sit back and survey the times that I’ve stopped writing it’s not because I didn’t love the ride but it was because I was either uninspired or lazy.

What have I done!?
Photo Credit: miguelavg via Compfight cc

It was during a time when I did not consider what was at stake when I merely skipping a days’ word count, that I picked up his book The War of Art.

Mr. Pressfield taught me that I wasn’t simply taking a break, I was sacrificing my dream of writing every time I took a pass.

The truth is, I’d like it to be easy. I’d like a clean cut trail exactly where I want to go with my books.

I type.
Books are published.
Simple as that.

But any successful writer, no matter if you view their work as drivel or snobbish, has overcome the uninspired feeling and done the one sure fire action toward a publishing career.

They wrote when their schedules told them they should be writing.

They are professionals about their books.

How about you?

Do you dream of the easy lottery book contract worth millions?

Or are you writing, and saving the day dreams for when the days’ work is done?

What Do Your Kids See When You Write?

Last week I went down stairs to put a book on my writing desk, when I got there I found something unfortunate, marker dots and streaks on the desk I built not a few months before. It would not come off. Then, I turned to my old desk on the other side of the room and noticed similar marks.

At first I was upset. I’d have to paint my new desk again and figure out how to get the ink out of the wood of my old desk. But first I had to find the culprit.

Photo Credit: MargaretDonald via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: MargaretDonald via Compfight cc

It didn’t take long for me to do so. My daughter June, who is five, had the same marker stains on her hands. I asked her about it and she admitted to it reluctantly. I told her she would have to help me paint my desk. Then I saw the papers she held. She asked me to help her staple her book together. The annoyance of having to paint my desk evaporated. Instead, I was thrilled.

While I was at work, she was also working. She was creating a story in the same space that I do. The marker stains were the signature of her effort.

When I realized this I could not have been more joyful to paint my desk again. My beloved daughter was doing her best to follow in the steps of her father. She wanted to write books where her daddy wrote books. She wanted to create too.

I am at awe when I see my kids emulate my wife and I. It simultaneously thrills and terrifies me.

What do your kids or family think of your writing dreams?

Planes, Neil Gaiman, and the Inca

I take immense pleasure in listening to author interviews and hearing about what inspires them. Occasionally, I take something significant from one of these creative soirees.

In an interview, Neil Gaiman suggested that Tolkien was able to write The Lord of the Rings because he read about Finnish philology. This might not make any sense at all, but it also might make sense absolutely. His writing was born out of what he loved to read and his reading lead him a lot of places. Of course he would invent languages, he studied them. He loved Nothernness and out of that love came Aragon and Elves and Rohan. He didn’t just read fantasy and rehash another fantasy story (I know I know he basically invented modern fantasy, but there was plenty out there).

Mr. Gaimans’ suggestion to would be authors is to read books about all sorts of things. Take a winding path through your local independent bookstore and visit genres and sections you haven’t before. You might be surprised by what you find.

While on a plane last week I read a book titled 1491 by Charles Mann, which Incahypothesizes what the Americas might have been like before Columbus bumped into them. Suddenly, without intention, all sorts of inspiration came to me.

What would it be like it one of the Inca people saw a plane? This might be a common thought, (traveling back in time to meet cavemen for example) but it might not have been as profound if I was not on an actual jetliner reading that particular book.

I’m not sure where this venture into other books and topics might take me, but it’s inspiring. I hope you don’t inbreed your writing or try to imitate an author you like but chase after what interests you. I am sure that out of this pursuit will come a book that is you. Not some cheap imitation.

Read something new today.

Cheers,

Bob

 

 

 

Do Bad Things To Those You Love

There are many reasons for writing a story. That thing that inspired you, the character(s) that would not shut up, that horrible tragedy you suffered, or a place you visited or book you read that required some sort of artistic response.

However you wound up here, you are beside me and all of the other fiction novelists wanting to bring your book to life.

When I first started writing, I discovered a few characters I really wanted to know. I wrote a draft of a book with them in it, and it was terrible. But, it was also a stepping stone up to a bigger world and some of the characters stayed with me. I want to write because of them and I want you to care about them.

The hard part about this is that I can’t just tell you about their day. I could describe their upbringing, dreams and nightmares, and where they live and the people they know in their world. But that would be stupid boring to you. They’ve lived in my head for a decade and I know them very well. If I mentioned them to you, you might be nice and say you care but you don’t. You don’t know them like I do and I get it.

This is going to hurt.

So, I have to do bad things to them. I have to put them in horrible situations and sometimes even kill some of them so you will care. I have to make you worry for their safety, wonder about the impact of a lie they told or a discovery that they have to hide from everyone or the world may end.

In the next book in my series I killed a character in the opening. The characters I created have already suffered enough in book one, but this one had to go. It just didn’t make sense for them to continue and they had to exist in the previous book. Now, they are gone. The hard part about this is that I loved them. I truly did. I had someone in my life just like them when I was fifteen.

Writing is fun. It’s a thrill to put together a story and even more so when people enjoy reading it. It is also hard because in the end, we may have to torture them.

How about you writer? Are you having a hard time hurting those imaginary people you love?

Cheers,

Bob

Need Inspiration? Get Uncomfortable.

We all have our routines. I get up at 6am, you sleep in until noon. You like tea in the morning, I like coffee. You drive to work while listening to sports talk radio and I listen to some form of audio book, every day. Our routines are great. But they can also be deadly to our inner artist. Let me explain.

If you read my last post, you know that things have changed in my life. And by that I mean sleep is a luxury and my novelizing has to be crammed into awkward nooks and crannies of my day. My ideal writing time is from 5:00am until 7:00am. But as my son turns in for the evening around 2:00am things have had to change and it has been a breath of fresh air.

A Little Manet Inspiration

My wife has been going to bed around 9:00pm. I have been staying up until around 2:00am and when she gets up I go to bed. I thought I would be exhausted each night and not have the energy to do anything. I was so wrong.

As it turns out, I really enjoy writing at night, more than I ever thought I would. It is writing time and that is always relished, but also a moment of quiet and peace and reflection. I can even read. All is quiet and I have ideas and writing projects that have been given new life because of this shuffle of time.

Writing is a disciple. Once developed you can build momentum and you may end up with an article, blog post, or novel that needs some serious editing. However, changing the time you write, what you write or what you read can help shake loose the cobwebs of complacency and allow great things to happen. It can allow your artist to wake up, paint something fresh and new, or even awaken your spirit to be bold.

Do you find your writing project growing cold and stale? Write from 9pm to 3am in the morning. Get up early and go on a walk before beginning your writing time. Do something to freshen up your life a bit, it may help relax your writing muscles and prepare you for the serious work ahead.

Cheers,

Bob

Adventures with (and lessons from) Ernest Hemingway

Think back to the first time you read a novel and it opened a new world. You finished the last page, sat back, and soaked it all in, knowing you read something grand.

Now imagine you jump on a train and travel across a continent to meet this literary giant and end up being their apprentice on a sailing vessel for a year. You have great discussions late into the night, have writing time (after all there is no place to go!), and you get a really really great tan.

Sounds like something from a movie, right? Well this happened to a man named Arnold SailingSamuelson in the spring of 1934. He met and was an apprentice to none other than Ernest Hemingway.

It might shock some of you, though not all, that I never liked Hemingway. His stripped down brilliance and clarity of prose is obvious to anyone trained in literature but, I think most of his stories are depressive like Burmese Days by George Orwell. However, I have begun to enjoy his stories more and more. Okay, let’s be honest. I was finally won over by Corey Stoll’s brilliant rendition of him in Midnight in Paris.

I wanted to share this article with my writer friends and thought a post was the best way to do that.

There were two things I took away from this article that I believe any writer should consider. I implore you to read the whole article by clicking HERE and post your thoughts below.

Lesson’s from Hemingway

  1. Never write too much in one sitting. Essentially, never empty yourself of everything you have. This way you will always be fresh and so will your book.
  2. Read good writers that are dead. Why? Because though they are dust their books have withstood the crashing waves of contemporary literature. Hemingway compiled a list of these books, which I have included below.
    •  “The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane
    • “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
    • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
    • Dubliners by James Joyce
    • The Red and the Black by Stendhal
    • Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
    • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    • Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
    • Hail and Farewell by George Moore
    • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    • The Oxford Book of English Verse
    • The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
    • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
    • Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
    • The American by Henry James

Find some time to write today.

Cheers,

Bob

Zen in the Art of Blogging

Zen in the art of writing
Zen in the Art of Writing

I selected this title because I’ve just finished Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury which is a collection of his essays on writing and a few short stories. I don’t know much about Zen, and probably never will, but this book is essential for any writer who is aching for inspiration. If you are caught in the writing Sahara and need an oasis that will fill your creative well and propel you back to the page with a clear head and impassioned desire to write, this is your cool drink of water.

The articles collected in Zen are full of words like: Gust, Zest, and Love. You can almost hear Mr. Bradbury punching the keys of his typewriter as his articles form on the page. There are people you’ve met in life that were full of, well, life. They glow and pour themselves in everything they do. It is clear that this man loved writing and loved life. Writing was not work for him anymore. It was rhythm, beat, song.

The last essay, Zen in the Art of Writing, highlights three words/phrases. Work, Relaxation, and Don’t Think.

Work – Mr Bradbury admits, as do we, that writing is hard work. You not only need to learn the rules of grammar, but those of pacing and timing, plot and character construction, and many more mechanics of a good story. However, there comes a time where you are familiar with your surroundings, like a year or two after starting a new job, and your daily activities become less thought driven. They are natural, almost comfortable. You don’t have to look at the keys any more or learn the “in’s and out’s” of the basics.

Relaxation – It is at this point where relaxation comes in. You have a construct to work inside of and can easily sit down and run through five hundred words that are moderately well written. You’ve paddled out to sea and can now ride the wave inland. You don’t have to think about pacing or what drives your character because it is already there in your mind. But there is more.

Don’t Think – More is truth. We’ve all had the unfortunate experience of being on the receiving end of someone’s unapologetic thoughts. However, this is where good writing lives. You are done paddling out to sea. You are riding the wave. You can now show off your moves. At this point your characters may pull you along like a five year-old at an Easter Egg hunt showing you where all the good stuff is. You don’t have to look for the eggs anymore. Soon enough, you have three short stories and the beginning of a novel you can be proud of.

Courtesy Villagevoice
– Courtesy Wiki Commons

Now, by no means is writing a simple step program. Mr. Bradbury admits that if you write one short story a week, having 52 completed in a year, maybe there is only one good one. But this is the work part. Soon enough you figure out how to write a story and intrigue an audience by your tale.

So writer, stop hoping for that magical time. Stop trying to be perfect or imitate. I ask you, like Mr. Bradbury, to roll up your sleeves and see what happens. It’s time to renew the commitment to your work, to hole yourself up and get a short story completed and submitted. By writing over and over again we can indeed come to something grand.

Let’s start that process today.

Cheers,

Bob