Creative Writing Tips #3: Writing without Inspiration
We writers don’t always feel like writing. Sometimes it’s because we don’t have anything to write about. Occasionally, it’s because some other creative project has left us feeling drained. More often than not though, we have a lot on our minds or we’re tired so we don’t feel like writing. But what if you need to?
Perhaps there is a deadline at work, school, or with a publisher. What if you feeling sort of indifferent to your creativity but deep down you know you’d rather be writing? Like when an old school movie is on TV during some time you have set aside to work. Or maybe you simply haven’t felt like writing for a while even though you consider yourself a writer. There are different creative writing tips that can force you to start writing depending on the situation, the time frame, and the urgency.
Let me preface this by saying that one of the best creative writing tips used to light the fires of writing inspiration is to create goals for yourself. If you set a few goals to achieve, all of the methods I am about to discuss will have a higher chance for success. For example, if you have a big paper due tomorrow and you only kinda, sorta want to get an A in that class, you can use as many motivation techniques as you want. You will receive a very small payoff. If you don’t care, there is a very low ceiling for your inspiration. On the other hand, if you have that same paper but you need to get an A to bring up your GPA to get into business school, we have a different story altogether. Strong goals go hand in hand with the inspiration to write.
Creative Writing Tips for Manufactured Inspiration
Situation #1: You know that you want to be a writer, but you haven’t really written anything substantial in a long while. You’ve tried to set aside time but to no avail. You just want to still be able to call yourself a writer.
Time Frame: Open-Ended Urgency: Low
The buzz word for this situation is routine. You have fallen out of practice with your writing and so it doesn’t make it into your subconscious schedule. The same sort of situation could occur with any daily task: flossing, washing the dishes, or making the bed. It is also not incredibly difficult to make any one of those tasks, including the writing, fit back into your schedule. It just takes time.
I was extremely out of practice with my writing a couple of years into my time in Chicago. Without school to keep me honest, I was doing little to keep fresh with both my acting and English degrees. I became fed up and started to look for ways to incorporate more writing into my life.
I was beginning to coach a two-woman sketch comedy troupe at the time and I asked if I could write them a few scenes. They approved and for a couple of weeks, I spent about half an hour twice a week working on these short scenes. It wasn’t much but it was enough to make me feel like writing again. I picked up an old sitcom pilot episode I’d written a little over a year earlier. I started editing it and coming up with new ideas for it. Not more than half an hour at a time, still only a few days a week.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was training myself to be a writer again. Even simply getting my hand moving and waking up that part of my brain made me more inclined to pick up some paper and write. Now, over a year later, I make the effort to write a thousand-word article every single day. Occasionally, I will get discouraged and I’ll let a couple of days fly by. But since the writing is part of my routine, I can pick it right back up and put it in my to-do list.
Add a little bit of writing to your days. It doesn’t have to be much. Even forcing yourself for five minutes a day, or at the least one minute can get you used to the activity. Try the 30 Day Trial with 30 minutes a day. At the end of the experiment you’ll have 15 hours worth of writing and one hell of a routine to build on.
Situation #2: You’re going back to school for writing and it’s been a while. Starting in about a week you’ll be writing papers and doing homework assignments like you used to. The difference between now and then: now you have less patience and more bills to pay. You just don’t want to feel like you’ve been hit by a train when you get there.
Time Frame: A week or two Urgency: Semi-urgent
If you have the time and the energy to get back on track I would go with the strategy of immersion. Immersion means surrounding yourself with something, like an immersion language program in a foreign country. When you can’t help but speak the language, it certainly helps your chances of being fluent by the end of it all.
There are a few ways to immerse yourself in writing, effectively shocking the system into being ready for the challenges you face. Often, you can find some in-person or online writing courses that focus on a very concentrated block of time. The best type of class for immersion would be a weekend retreat of some kind. This is where a group of writers go together to a remote location to write as much as they can for a few days. These classes can cost a pretty penny, so shop around for the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.
If you’d rather not spend the money but you’re willing to take the time then you can immerse yourself. Set aside a day or two to grab a pad of paper, some pencils and head to your nearest library. I suggest using paper and pencils so that you will not be as distractable as you would be on a laptop. I would choose a library or somewhere like it because it has a studious, quiet, writing-friendly vibe to it.
Set aside four to six hours to write on the days you choose. Bring something you’ve been meaning to work on or some writing prompts to go off of. Force yourself not to leave the library but allow for frequent breaks. This is a lot to force your system to do in a short period of time, so a break or seven would be appropriate :).
I suggested the method of immersion in this situation because you will soon be taking on a lot of work that will help you to keep focused and busy. If it was more like situation #1, the open-ended nature might cause you to burn out if you do too much too soon. But for those who need a quick jolt, immersion may be the way to go.
Situation #3: You have a paper, story, or project deadline due tomorrow and you haven’t even started it. You would have but you didn’t feel like it. Guess what?! You still don’t feel like it. Gulp! Looks like another all-nighter.
Time Frame: 1 night Urgency: Holy crap!
Oh, we’ve all been there. Whether it’s an overcrowded social life, an overloaded schedule, or simply a mean streak of lazy, most have us have been faced with the Sisyphysian uphill battle of one project in one night. The typical way I’ve seen this situation attacked is with a few cans of Red Bull and a sleepover in the undergraduate library. I’d like to approach this problem in a healthier way.
Firstly, you need to clear your head and ready yourself by getting some exercise. A little 15 to 20 minute jog or aerobics routine will relax your body and it will wake up the brain with those delightful endorphins. Secondly, get yourself a whole lot of natural energy and water prepared for your journey. Caffeine will dehydrate you and make you feel too jittery to focus. An apple will give you a quick boost of energy without the crash. Oh, and it’s cheaper too :). Get five to ten apples, a couple of bananas, and any other fruit or veggies you can get your hands on. Don’t worry so much about balance (between protein, carbs, and fat); the important factor on this night is natural energy.
Next, set yourself up in a comfortable place where you won’t be distracted for the next ten to twelve hours. A place where you can keep the lights on and you won’t run into people you know. If it has to be an extremely public place, go for the most obscure, hidden nook possible. Fourth, set yourself up for some motivation. Think of the possible far off positive end result of you finishing this task. For example, the earlier mention of getting into business school. Write on a post-it and your Word Processor header a declarative sentence in the present tense of you having achieved this goal. For our example, “I have been accepted into business school." This will make it so that every time you look down at your note or type up another page you will see this phrase. Seeing your goal in this way will help you press on both consciously and subconsciously.
The last step is to press on and write! If you get tired, eat an apple and drink some water. If you get discouraged, look at your goal. I guarantee you that your work will be better than that of the caffeine junkie sitting next to you and twitching. Voila! One night of inspiration.
Mix and Match
These scenarios cover the time periods of one month or longer, one week, and one day, but the steps used to complete them can be interchanged with each other to your heart’s content. You can start with immersion and then glide it into a routine. Punctuate a long project with short bursts of one-night inspirational writing sessions. The important step is your decision to do something about your problem. If you’re a writer, then write. If you’re a soon to be student: be prepared. If you’re incredibly busy: be healthy and smart so you don’t get burned out for a week. In the moment, you may not feel like writing, but in the end you know that a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment can pretty much trump anything else.
Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on Google+ and Facebook.