“The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write.”
—Unknown

Three Tactics to Stop Letting Inspiration Rule You

3 Tactics to Stop Letting Inspiration Rule You

Photo by Ian Scott

At the opening of Odyssey, Homer appealed to his muse for the inspiration to tell his story. Shakespeare did the same thing in a number of his plays. Let’s face it, when it comes to art, inspiration is the queen on high.

And sure, those moments when inspiration strikes are exhilarating. But let’s face it, the muses are tempestuous and unreliable. Inspiration is demanding, pushy, and withholding in turns to keep us under their thumb.

The muses keep us up late when we know we should be sleeping, strike in the shower where we can’t reach a pen, and then abandon us for weeks without a word.

But you don’t have to be inspiration’s beck and call any longer. In fact, breaking free is a lot easier than you might think. Try out these three tactics and see for yourself.

Work at the same time, consistently.

Our brains are made for habit. If you put in the time to establish a consistent behavior pattern (science says it takes about three weeks), the force of habit begins to take over, and your brain will respond by getting into writer mode in your designated writing time.

You don’t have to write every single day for this to work, just set a regular routine for yourself—I recommend at least one block of time a week. Then, guard that time with your life.

Show up no matter what, even if it’s just you and the blank screen and utter silence. Don’t worry, the words will come.

Keep an idea log.

One of the frustrating things about writing is the time required to take an idea from conception to completion. But you can also use this to your advantage.

Ideas take just seconds to think up. They accumulate much faster than finished works, so when it’s time to start a new project, the only question you should ever have is, “which one do I pick up next?”

So when inspiration does hit, encourage it by taking swift action—write it down and store it somewhere safe. Then all those pieces of inspiration in one place, ready to spring into a story whenever you’re ready for it.

There’s a lot of different ways to do this, from the classic pocket journal to apps like Evernote. Personally, I use my smartphone to email them to myself.

Create rituals.

Brilliant creative through the ages have been known for their quirky rituals. Nikola Tesla had dinner at the Waldorf every night at 8 p.m. James Joyce woke at 10 a.m. each day, then laid in bed an hour after waking up each morning.

You can do this, too.

Maybe not the sleeping ‘til 10 necessarily, but you should find your own ways to trigger in your mind that it’s now writing time. Do this consistently every time you write, and you’ll find that over time it gets easier to settle into writing mode and get the words on the page, regardless of when or where you are.

Inspiration Rules, But So Do You

It’s as easy as that—a little consistency in your schedule, a notebook in your pocket, a trigger to get your mind in gear. Put these tricks to work, and you’ll be on your way to taking charge of your creativity for the long haul.

And finally, you can stop sitting around waiting for inspiration to drop by. The better and more consistently you stick them, the more you’ll find that inspiration shows up exactly when you want it to, freeing you to reclaim your creative time and get some real writing done.

Consider the moments when you’ve had your big aha moments in the past—what was consistent around them? A time of day? A state of mind? A place? A mood?

PRACTICE

Start creating your writing habit today. First, write down your commitment, something like, “I commit to writing every Monday from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm. It could be in the morning or evening. It could be two hours or fifteen minutes. Just make a commitment and stick to it.

Then, starting writing. Write for at least fifteen minutes. When you’re finished with your writing, post three to four paragraphs in the comments section as your practice. And if you post, be sure to leave comments for your fellow writers.

Have fun!

About Emily Wenstrom

By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.

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  • Davey Northcott

    When does inspiration come to me? Difficult question.

    Well, thinking about it, I’d say that inspiration in so much as the original idea for a book or story usually comes to me when I’m not actually looking for it! I remember the inspiration for my first novel came when I was brushing my teeth!

    Why is this? I believe that inspiration has to be spontaneous. You can sit for hours trying to force ideas to come to you, and they do. But to me, these ideas always feel forced and I am often left with an uncomfortable feeling of ‘this is OK, but it’s not what I want’. Inspiration comes from a shadow, a light, a person walking down the street or hanging out the washing in a particular way and from there the story grows. Once the original spark has caught, that is the time to sit down and brainstorm, sketch out drafts and think. But original inspiration doesn’t need to be searched for; it is all out there waiting for us to notice it.

    Davey

    ‘The Path Through the Eye of Another’ http://smarturl.it/daveynorthcott

    • You’re right, inspiration can hit at odd times. Some of this is because your brain needs down time to let the information you take in process subconsciously and make connections. When those connections get made in those “aha” moments, since the work is happening below the surface, it seems random. This is why down time is so important for creativity!

      But you can train your brain to have more moments like this, too. The down time is needed to process information–you can improve your odds of getting good ideas out by putting good stuff IN it.That’s where training and practice and consistently showing up to write come in. Thanks for sharing Davey!

      • Davey Northcott

        Definitely agree that the more you put into your mind the more you get out of it. Minds need feeding and, thankfully, they generally seem continually hungry!

        • George McNeese

          Indeed. Someone once said that if we stop learning, we stop living (or something to that effect). Fortunately, our brains will never stop yearning for knowledge. So, we cannot stop, either.

      • George McNeese

        I agree, Emily. We all need downtime as writers. We need that time to recharge and process everything we’ve taken in, good and bad. We can use both in our writing. It helps me to write out the good as well as the bad. The purpose is to not beat myself up about it, or to be arrogant and cocky. We need balance in our lives, as writers and as people. I can learn from both.

    • Marianne Richmond

      I totally agree Davey. It seems the best book titles have come from some spontaneous phrase I utter to my own kids! And then I have to listen to that instinct that says, “now THAT would make a good book title!”

      • Davey Northcott

        Thanks. So true! That moment of dawning realisation is so exciting.

    • Giulia Esposito

      Very interesting Davey! I often feel like when I want to write, when I’m sitting down to “brainstorm” my entire mind goes blank. Everything feels forced. And then I get ideas while I’m in the shower. Naturally. But they are the ones I’m willing to run with.

      • Davey Northcott

        I think it’s something about the bathroom that makes ideas come! The shower and like I said, the idea for my first novel came while brushing my teeth. I suppose it’s a place where we can be really alone with our mind and without interruptions. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it could be true …

  • George McNeese

    I commit to writing three times a day at 6:30 in the morning. I commit to free write at least thirty minutes each day. The morning works best because that’s really the only free time I have available without interruption from the family, most of the time. I have a table where I can write in peace. I make it a habit to have my botebook and pen ready for me when I am disciplined enough to wake and write.

    My inspiration comes in various forms. Dreams inspire me. I try to make a habit of writing then down in my journal as soon as I wake up. How those dreams manifest themselves, I have no idea. Sometimes, people inspire me, especially when I’m looking for new characters. I’ll try to pay attention to mannerisms, dialect, any idiosyncrasies, though that’s hard to detect. Sometimes, listening to the radio or watching TV inspires me. If I’m listening to music, I’ll make a note of it in my phone. If I’m watching television shows or movies, I’ll focus on plot structure and character development.

    • Sounds like you’re pretty disciplined George! Well done.

      • George McNeese

        I wish I had that kind of discipline. Sometimes, I let the alarm ring and just shut it off to get at least another thirty minutes of peace before partaking my paternal duties. Another commitment I will make is to be more attentive to the world around me, to step outside my little bubble.

        Wish me luck on me waking up in the morning. I need the practice.

    • Giulia Esposito

      I agree with Emily, you sound very disciplined. It seems like you have a working routine in place, and that puts you miles ahead.

  • My Muse runs with me. Literally.

    • And you get your exercise in at the same time! Bonus! That’s awesome, thanks for sharing Birgitte.

      • You’re welcome Emily, enjoyed your post! Like the call to discipline. 🙂

  • csarp

    I commit to practice writing 3 times a week for at least 15 minutes each time. I will shoot for Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I commit to ‘practicing’ above and beyond the writing that I need to do.

    I’m usually a cautious committer! Purchases, time, relationships all get thought out carefully before I use the ‘c’ word. Buyers remorse, that’s what they call it when you buy something you can’t afford, don’t need and you recognize it. We have a financial plan that accounts for the next 30 years, there is some flexibility, but not for a random time
    share purchase. Those time share salesmen are experts at getting you to commit. We should be using the training they go through to help people commit to something worthwhile, like getting people to donate to world hunger or pay their student loans. We are frugal people that aren’t given to extravagances. Somehow their expectations and the friendly banter turned into a purchase. They make it seem logical and even
    smart to buy time? Time! Now that is creative! Now what? We can renege or find a way to get value from this expensive breech of reason. Both options make us seem dim-witted. Usually we aren’t.

  • Giulia Esposito

    I’ve been trying to get back into the writing groove for months now. I’ve been totally unsuccessful. I will however, take some of these suggestions. I will commit to writing every day at 6:30 for at least thirty minutes. Here is my practice, which is actually a true story too.

    My dear friend told me to change it up. I had been bemoaning my writer’s block to her, and she said, “give it up! Try something new. At least for a little while.”

    Try something new? What a novel idea. She’d suggested poetry, so I picked up my pen and scribbled away–

    But it’s best to leave that particular piece to your imagination. Sometimes not sharing is caring. But maybe she had a point, because I tried to write something comical–not a boice I usually adopt. And although this may be dull and uninspired I have actually succeeded in writing down something. Just that, in itself, is inspiring.

    • csarp

      I think anything you try….successfully or not… is inspirational!

      • I agree! You’re miles ahead of a lot of people simply by showing up on a regular schedule. Keep it up, it’ll pay off!

  • TheCody

    Nice article 🙂 And I sat down and made myself write a small story –

    Chris leans back, pulling on the chains and sticking his feet straight out. The swing responds, pushing itself further up. He closes his eyes, giving the impression he’s enjoying the wind blowing through his hair and the child-like feeling of being on the playground. In reality, he’s flat-out nervous. Just seconds before, his niece, Kaylee, screamed, “See how high you can jump!” Then, she freed herself of the swing, again, flew in a perfect arc, and landed a good ten feet away.

    The simple act made Chris so scared and surprisingly jealous. He hadn’t jumped from a swing in two years. And when he did, he partially tore his meniscus and had to do physical therapy for two months.

    Chris leans forward and tucks his legs on the ride back, then stretches out once again. He’s purposely wasting time sending the swing higher and higher. Kaylee, who’s already jumped at least a dozen times, begs him to hurry. Chris hasn’t jumped once and can’t bring himself to do it.

    When, in his thirty-six years, did his body become so worn out and fraile?

    He takes a huge breath and, gripping the chains harder, tells himself it’s not that big a deal. He still feels fast when he runs. And sharp when he’s working. And he can still pivot with a basketball pretty damn fast. But his body can’t take these jumps anymore. Already, he can feel the impact and his knees are throbbing in anticipation. He doesn’t think that’s supposed to happen already – thirty-six isn’t old!!

    Except, in this circumstance, it is, and the realization is devastating. Joining his niece on the swings has ruined Chris’s entire day at the park. The thought that he’s scared to land makes him feel so old and decrepit. For the first time, he actually sympathizes for the old ladies and men who eschew walking the mall for a bench. He pictures himself having to give in, as younger people carry on with their exciting lives.

    “Come on! Jump!” screams Kaylee.

    Chris grits his teeth and nods. He has to do this, to prove to himself he can take the simple act of falling a few feet. And to prove to everyone else he’s still vibrant.

    Chris tucks his legs then stretches out again as the swing flies forward. He lets go with one hand. But he doesn’t jump. His heart is racing and his brain is telling him to stick his feet in the dirt, slow the swing, and admit defeat. But he knows he won’t.

    Without grabbing the chain, he zooms back one last time. As the swing flies forward, he forces himself to let go with his other hand. When the swing reaches the top, he will be unable to keep himself on.

    The arc upward seems to last an hour. Chris thinks about mortality, his knee, Kaylee, the other kids, the parents, and his pride.

    The swing reaches its pinnacle.

    Chris feels himself being released. He begins circling his feet like he’s riding a bicycle. He puts his hands up and fakes a huge smile.

    Then his body starts turning sideways in air. He waves his hands to straighten out, eyes wide, but doesn’t have enough time. He lands on his right foot and the ankle gives way with a huge popping sound. He crumples sideways with a scream and grabs his foot. Everyone comes rushing over, except Kaylee, who’s back on the swing, screaming with glee.

  • Thanks for the post. I commit to writing whenever I can. I do write every day for a minimum of 15 minutes. I am teetering on the edge of a commitment quest that requires a weekly solid block, 2 hours perhaps. However inspiration arrives and leaves at its own will and always leaves a footprint.

    My practice article today….

    Yesterday poring over the outline for a riverside development community consultation project I struggled. Yes indeed. How to make this an engaging and inclusive project? And all the while this manic inner muse of mine wanted to jump in and wax lyrical about the feisty dragon boat racers skimming the pregnant post winter river while it carved it’s dark secrets into muddy banks between two hundred year old towering Karri trees, and the croft of weeping paperbarks that sent wrinkles rippling through the shadows of the gurgling ponds and intricate nests of wetland birds.

    Dark secrets, ancient stories, lovers meanders and lost innocence, pounded promise and mystery against my creative cortex.

    Bang smack in the middle of my income-earning, professional consultant persona I wanted to hoist my creative sails, tic tac into the prevailing wind and launch into the ocean of inspiration.

    Oh my muse. I love her unpredictability, her sneaky peeping into my everyday, and her willingness to leap into the most unsuspecting moments.

    Alas I had to return to planning the consultation methodology. Which itself will be marvellous now that it has a journaling workshop, a poetry walk and a photographic competition as part of its process. Inspiration rules and manifests in multiple ways, at work and at play. Such a blessing.

  • Eliese

    This is exactly what I needed, and what I have been going through. Thanks!

  • My inspiration usually comes to me on the 45 minutes to work and from work. I usually just store those in my head or throw them in the glove box. They often drive me through a mental roadblock in my story, even if the road blocks is miles ahead in the book. What, did I say something punny?

    I do log them when I can, but I rarely need them, because I think about all the repercussions of the changes in the story until I’ve beat every ounce of inspiration out of the poor idea. Then I find some other lonely and unwept idea to beat into oblivion.

    I’ve found that I’m easy to inspire in the morning, put in a song, think about it. Next thing I know I’m singing at the top of my lungs holding back the tears as an amazing scene is born in my mind. This happens maybe every other week.

    I try to arrive to work an hour early every morning. I write for the whole time and stop at 8:00 on the dot. I usually write on my lunch hour, too.

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  • LarryBlumen

    I guess I’m a little different—I write only when my muse is transmitting. When I try to write something by myself, it’s usually not very good.

    • Jaclyn Paul

      I have a few creative friends who feel this way, too. I am always trying to remind them that the first draft is always bad — that’s the point. I write first drafts to lay a foundation, and no matter what I start with, I know I can always turn it into whatever I want through lots of editing/rewriting. Then again, I think editing is a lot more fun than drafting 😉

      • LarryBlumen

        Thank you.

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  • Sandra D

    I have been making a habit of writing something in the mornings and then writing in the evenings. I am up to 40-50 minutes. But if I miss either the morning time or evening time it is only half that.

    When I was in Middle School there was a race at our school that had everyone in our grade run and not just our class. It was in November and the first boy and the first girl got to take home a Turkey. As we started to run a lady was telling us, just like a true coach, to try to run straight through and not to make any stops.

    Well I did try to do that, one long run, but I felt myself get too tired and I did stop eventually. But soon I was back in running. And strangely enough I had won. I did not expect it at all. I was the first girl in about 100 other girls. Actually there was one girl on my heels. And when I was accepting my turkey she was standing beside me as runner up and she whispered to me that she would have beat me but that she thought I was a boy and so she didn’t try. Which of course made me feel uneasy.

    Though I think I had felt a little sick when they had called me to the front of the auditorium, the entire school there watching. I was so shy and I had never done anything like that. And everyone was clapping in acknowledgement. I had done something and they had appreciated me and recognized me. But I didn’t know how to be there and get all that goodness at me.

    Because mostly what I have known is being ignored, not much to look at, not good at anything, and my mother had used the phrase good for nothing on a number of occasion when describing my overall traits.

    I am getting off topic. I apologize. Anyways. It is like I am doing the whole time of the hour a day, which is nice. But I am still breaking it up. When I had won the race, that coach was there and she said good job. And I was feeling pretty good with myself winning and all. But then she asked, did you run all straight with no stops? I was thinking are you kidding me? I won. What does it matter if I stopped or not?

    But I thought maybe it did matter, because I couldn’t do it all at one go. And probably that was just as important as winning. So I shake my head and say no, I didn’t.

    And so I wonder wouldn’t it be great if I could write one hour straight everyday? Or even better if i could write actual stories and finish them? I am hoping I am building my ability anyway even if I haven’t been able to quite what I want yet.

    • Sandra D

      and another thing, a very annoying thing, is I don’t know if I am ever especially inspired to write. I think of inspiration as the enticing thing that get’s you started in the first place. Like love.

      When you start a relationship you are madly in love, and then from there some time after many people are like what happened?

      The love at beginnings of relationships is not what you usually end up with and it may come and go like inspiration through the relationship but it is the staying power of the individuals to not give up on it that matters.

      Likewise with writing. It has to be your partner. Not a one night stand, or three weeks of googly eyes. You have to be willing to commit to it even though sometimes it forgets to brush its teeth in the morning when it leans up to you for a kiss.

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