Do you ever sit down to write only to discover hours later that you’ve done nothing but stare off into space with a blank look on your face, occasionally breaking from your stupor to notice that you haven’t written a single word?
I bet there have also been times when you were bursting with creativity — when you couldn’t get the words out of your head and onto the page (or screen) fast enough.
Don’t you wish writing could always be like that?
Creative writing requires skill, focus, and motivation. But is inspiration necessary? Can we write if we’re not inspired?
What is Inspiration?
Oxford defines inspiration as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative” or “a sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea.”
Unfortunately, inspiration is fleeting. Sometimes you have it; sometimes you don’t.
Fortunately, you can cultivate inspiration and keep creativity and ideas flowing, so you can get your projects finished and achieve those writing goals you’ve set for yourself.
And if all else fails, it is possible to write when you’re not feeling inspired. That’s why it’s called work, folks.
Below you’ll find a big list of questions, activities, and ideas that will help you cultivate writing inspiration.
Reread your favorite book: You know the one, the book that made you want to become a writer. Remember how it made you feel?
Create an inspiration log to track your creativity: Whenever you’re feeling inspired, log the time and place and make some notes about what you’ve been doing. Tracking can help you understand what inspires you, and then you can use that information to be more inspired, more often.
Check in with yourself: Start with the HALT method: are you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Are you stressed or dealing with health issues? You might need to set your writing aside, but most of the time, you shouldn’t let life’s road bumps bring your writing progress to a halt. Take care of yourself, and then get back to writing.
Shake up your intake of art and entertainment: Turn off Netflix and visit a virtual museum. Mute your music streaming service and watch some live concerts online. Log out of social media and read a book.
Get disciplined: Sometimes inspiration (or lack thereof) isn’t the real problem. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to write. Maybe you’re feeling lazy. Perhaps you’d rather be doing something else. Consider whether you need to work on your self-discipline.
Leverage inspiration when you’ve got it: When inspiration strikes, make lots of notes, create outlines, do a brain dump. Then, when you’re feeling uninspired, you’ll have plenty of ideas to work with, and all you’ll need to do is motivate yourself to do the work.
Stock up on books on the craft: I don’t know about you, but books on the craft of writing are one of my best motivators. I am almost always reading one, even if only for those times when I need a spark to ignite a writing session. Pick up a few books on the craft of writing and flip through them when you need inspiration.
Journal your lack of inspiration: You’re a writer, so hopefully you have a journal or some kind of writer’s notebook. Use it to explore why you’re not inspired and then journal your way back to inspiration.
Write while uninspired: Writing while uninspired is an important skill for writers to develop. Conditions for writing will not always be perfect. In fact, they will rarely be perfect. Train yourself to work under imperfect, uninspired conditions. Professional writers either learn how to write regardless of how inspired they’re feeling, or they learn how to get inspired on command. Either way, they get it done.
Try meditation or deep breathing: Meditation is proven to improve focus and lower stress, two problems that can inhibit creativity. Coincidentally, studies also show that meditation boosts creativity.
Are you uninspired or unmotivated? I tend to think of inspiration as the crossroad where ideas and motivation meet. Are you in need of ideas or are you just unmotivated? Both? Once you figure out the problem, it’s a lot easier to solve.
Create an inspiration board: Or jar. Or box. The idea is to create a collection of things that inspire you so you can peruse them whenever you’re feeling uninspired. Fill it with pictures, notes, quotes, and more. You can make a digital collection or an analog collection (or make one of each).
Know your muse: The best way to stay inspired and keep creativity flowing is to know what inspires you and make it part of your routine. For example, if reading inspires you, then incorporate twenty minutes of reading into your daily routine, right before your writing session.
Adjust your routine: Speaking of routines, you can train yourself to be inspired by writing every day at around the same time. I’m not saying it will be easy. Some days, getting just a handful of words onto the page will be a struggle. But in time, you’ll be more inspired more often, and on schedule!
Avoid burnout: Are you experiencing burnout? I have experienced writer’s burnout, and it’s definitely an inspiration killer. The best cure for burnout is prevention. Pace yourself to maintain a steady flow of creativity and try to create a balanced lifestyle. While some writers are productive by binge writing, most of us get better results with a steady, balanced writing schedule.
Mingle with other writers: Do you have a critique partner? Beta readers? A writing group? If not, log into social media and check in with the writing community. Discussing the craft with other writers is one of the best way to get motivated and inspired.
Do it anyway: Sometimes you might not be able to invoke deep feelings of inspiration. In fact, there might be times when you are not only uninspired, you intensely don’t want to write. Do it anyway, especially if you’re working on a major project with a serious intent to finish it. Train yourself to write regardless of how inspired you feel.
Get out of a rut: Do you do the same things day in and day out? Has your life become monotonous? Do something spontaneous, or plan something that breaks you out of your rut. Often, shaking up an old routine gives you a new perspective, and new perspectives are great for getting inspired.
Get a new perspective: While we’re on the subject, there are plenty of ways to get new perspective. Go to a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try. Take a day trip to another town. Visit a museum, go see an old friend, or take a walk along a lake or river. Get to someplace you’ve never been (or haven’t seen in a while) and see if it inspires you. Bring a camera!
Get inspired by nature: Creators have always been inspired by nature. Spend a few minutes listening for the birds or examining the night sky. Take a short walk to look at the neighborhood plants and flowers. Head to a local park or go to the beach. Find some way to connect with nature. Don’t forget to bring your notebook!
Peruse your old notebooks and files: If you’ve been writing for a significant amount of time, you’ve probably accumulated a bunch of unused material. Buried in your notebooks and files, you might find a gem of an idea that sparks your inspiration.
Review your goals: Why do you want to write? What are you trying to achieve? Do you write for fun? For personal expression? Are you trying to make a career of it? What writing have you done? What do you want to do in the future? Sometimes reminding yourself why you want to write is all the inspiration you need.
Do not let yourself off the hook: It can be tempting to skip a writing session or complete some other task when you’re not feeling especially inspired. If this happens once in a while, it’s harmless. But if you’re constantly not getting your writing done because you’re not inspired enough, then you’ve arrived at a point where you’re just making excuses. Take control of your situation.
Are you overthinking? If you’re analyzing every idea and overthinking every word you write, you might not be suffering from lack of inspiration; you could simply be putting too much undue pressure on yourself. Stop worrying. Stop trying to be perfect. Stop trying to be someone else. Use the inspiration you’ve got and put your best words on the page. You can always improve upon them later.
Money: Okay, I have to admit that I bristle at the idea of using money as a motivator or as inspiration. But that’s just me. Plenty of people have found money to be a source of inspiration (or motivation). Sometimes the idea of making money from writing will get the words flowing. Other times, money finds its way into poetry and stories and essays, as a topic. If money inspires you, so be it. Use it to to your advantage.
Clean up: We’ve all heard of creative geniuses who surround themselves with clutter. But a tidy and clean environment can make us feel clear and focused. I find that my inspiration flows more easily when I’m not distracted by dust. Take a few minutes to clean up your writing space and see if it clears the way for some writing inspiration.
Write yourself into inspiration: Open your current project, read the last few sentences you wrote, and then keep going, even if all you come up with is gibberish. You might find that after five or ten minutes, your write yourself into some inspiration.
Ease up on the pressure: Whatever you do, stop telling yourself that you have to be great. If you shun every idea because it’s stupid or because it’s been done before, or if you’re constantly comparing yourself to the greats, then you need to stop and remove some of that pressure you’re putting on yourself. How is your muse supposed to find you under a mountain of unrealistic expectations? Lighten up!
Write by hand: There’s something about writing on paper with a pen that makes lots of writers feel more creative, myself included. In fact, if I’m in need of writing inspiration, I’ll often crack open my journal and start writing down random words and phrases. That’s when the magic happens. Ideas start to appear. Writing inspiration has arrived.
Prompts and exercises: Prompts are designed to spark ideas and exercises are designed to teach writing concepts and provide practice. Both can provide endless sources of writing inspiration. You will find plenty of writing prompts and exercises right here at Writing Forward.
Make good use of the internet: The internet can be toxic and overwhelming, but it’s also an amazing resource, and you can use it to drum up some writing inspiration. Scroll through images on Pinterest, research your favorite topics, peruse online bookstores. I recommend setting a timer to limit your web surfing, lest you get sucked down the notorious rabbit hole.
Make an aesthetic (inspiration) board: An aesthetic board is a collection of images that represent a project, a person, or an idea. Get a large piece of cardboard and then tape or glue inspiring images to it. You can also create boards for story worlds, characters, and other elements of your writing projects. Hang your inspiration board near your writing space.
Brainstorm: Don’t worry about writing sentences and paragraphs; just do some brainstorming. Make lists of characters, jot down details about your story world, take some notes about the subject you’re addressing in your next essay, create word lists for your poetry. Brainstorming will often get your creative juices flowing.
Make a running list of things that inspire you: Do you feel compelled to write when listening to music? Does any particular type of music inspire you? A certain song? Do you get ideas for writing while exercising? Driving? Showering? Do certain places or people inspire you? Make a list of all these things. Be sure to maintain your list and continue adding to it as you discover new sources of inspiration.
Do some editing: Editing is a close cousin to writing, and I often find that while editing, I get lots of new ideas. You can self-edit your own writing projects or offer to do some editing for a writer friend. Something about working with words engages inspiration.
Write a letter: Here’s the kicker: you don’t have to send the letter you write. If it’s too personal (or too negative), you can burn it. Surely you have something you want to say and someone to whom want to say it. Do it in a letter, and watch the inspiration come pouring forth.
Make a list of questions: I recommend starting with “what if?” But any questions will do. You can ask questions about the universe, questions about human nature, questions about what you should wear to the next holiday party. Explore your curiosity and let inspiration spring from it.
Morning pages and free-writes: Morning pages and free-writes are two of the most beloved and proven techniques for keeping inspiration flowing. Morning pages are three pages of your handwritten thoughts each and every morning. Free-writes can be any length (or set a timer) of stream-of-consciousness writing. Both serve two purposes: they purge your mind of debris and they produce gems of inspiration.
Taking Control of Your Writing Inspiration
Sometimes inspiration is like an old faucet. You turn the handle and you get a slow drip of rusty water. You turn it off, clean the pipes a bit, then try again. This time the water flows, but it’s still rusty. You try again. And again. It might take several tries, but eventually the water flows, clean and clear.
Inspiration is a lot like that.
Writers who complain of problems like writer’s block or lack of inspiration are often just missing the drive, discipline, and motivation to get their work done. If writing is just a hobby or something you do purely for fun, then that’s fine. Write when you feel like it, and don’t worry about it the rest of the time.
But if you have serious writing goals that you’re trying to accomplish, then you need to take control of your creativity and learn how to manage your writing inspiration.
What do you do when you want to write but are feeling uninspired? Got any tips for generating writing inspiration that can be added to this list? Share your thoughts about cultivating inspiration by leaving a comment, and keep writing.