I asked a friend yesterday if she mainly wrote out of inspiration, or if she’d mastered the discipline of sitzfleisch. She was quick to say, “I write when I’m inspired.”

muse vacation

Photo by Julien Haler

Another friend finally finished her manuscript after years of sporadic visits from the muse, claiming that trying to work without the presence of magic was to produce sheer mediocrity.

Word of the Day: Sitzfleisch

Sitzfleisch is a German word which means to sit still and get through the task at hand. It’s often the difference between a wannabe writer and a professional writer.

You sit long enough to prime the pump and get those creative juices flowing. Whatever it takes. My aids are a burning tea light and quiet, a cup of magic brew (Columbian espresso), and leisure. Oh, and reading a masterfully written book thaws any frozen pump.

Advice from the Pros

Charles Frazier said he set the writing mood with music. In Cold Mountain, it was Appalachian style that inspired that well of words.

Julia Cameron has sold many on the idea of morning pages, three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing. Not high art, just releasing random thoughts on paper and skimming off the dross of life to clear the way for the sublime.

Natalie Goldberg compares writing practice to a daily exercise. “If you work out regularly, when it’s time to do the heavy lifting, like move a piano or take an essay test, or write something super important, it will be easier because you have developed the muscles.”

Novelist and short story writer Peter S. Beagle says to just show up for work. “My uncle Raphael was a painter, and he used to say, ‘If the muse is late for work, start without her.’ You have to be there. You have to be there and do it, and grind it out, even when it is grinding and you know you’re probably going to rewrite all this tomorrow.”

What primes your pump?

My writing student Cyna says, “Why let something as fickle as inspiration hold you back? You’re a writer! MAKE something exciting happen! And if your inspiration does decide to show up while you’re working, tell it to get in line. You have writing to do.”

When your muse is on vacation, what prompts you to sit down and write? And if you don’t feel inspired, how do you get in the zone?


For fifteen minutes, write down every thought that comes to mind on how to get inspired when you don’t feel like writing. What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked? What might work if you tried it? Let’s help each other out. Share your ideas in the comments. Go!

Debra Elramey's work has appeared in numerous publications, including Sojourners, Crucible, Pembroke, and Writer’s Digest. You can follow her on her blog, Pure and Simple, and on Twitter (@elramey).

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