The other day it took me all day to hit my daily 1000-word goal. Normally, I get up, do some minimal morning prep, like brush my teeth and make coffee, and get right to writing. But I lingered in bed that morning and got off my routine. Then I just couldn’t seem to find the words to talk about what I wanted to talk about – plus, I had other things on my mind that I tried NOT to talk about – the result was, it took me 13 hours to finish 1000 words. Now, I did a lot of other things between the beginning and the end of those 1000 words, but it got me to thinking how we get through the work when we’re lacking the inspiration to do so. So here it is.
- First of all, it’s completely stupid and counter-intuitive that we think inspiration should strike us with any regularity. Lightning never strikes in the same spot, right? Wrong. If we sit under the same fucking tree in the rain for enough days, it will strike us. Plus, lightning doesn’t need to hit us directly, it just needs to hit near us for us to feel the effects. Its massive power moves through the ground and even the water vapor in the air. So the first thing you need to do is get into a mindset that inspiration doesn’t strike as often as we’d like – but we have to do the work anyway. It can’t strike us if we’re not there. So rule number one is butt in chair. Sit down and power through the work.
- Change of venue. If you aren’t feeling all that inspired, but you showed up for work anyway, maybe try a different desk, stand instead of sit, some minor variation that gives your soul some sort of feeling of different.
- Completely the opposite of #2, do the exact same thing you always do to the T. Get back into the groove of the routine. If you don’t have a routine, make one. Write at the same time in the same spot every single day, do not take weekends off. Keep doing this until you get your first splash of inspiration.
- Have your topics and desk all set up the night before so all you have to do is get up and write. I set my Hated MacBook Pro to automatically open Evernote so I don’t have to even do that. I turn on the computer and sit down and write. The less decisions you have to make, the clearer your mind will be.
- Grab the last thing that inspired you and write the polar opposite. Force yourself through this exercise – even be mean and personal in your opposite view – take on a new tone, a new voice, something different – that’s the key, to change it up and break things loose.
- Think about something you really love – I mean something you’ve probably already written about 100 times. Write it again. Not word for word, but write about the same subject again. Try to capture what you’ve missed in the past. Think of it as a piece of music you’ve played 100 times, play it again, this time with attitude!
- If you write fiction, write a journal entry from one of your characters, or a conversation with your character – do an interview with them for a national media spot – what would interest the world about your character? Why would anyone care? Write about that.
- Think back to your childhood, write about a single day in your memory – now, is that memory correct, or is there some ick around it? Explain the difference now versus then, and how you’ve changed since that memory took place. Would you go back and do that day over again, if you could? Look at that memory from someone else’s point of view – ideally the opposite of what you think the memory represents.
- Write a simple how-to article about something you know how to do – a recipe, or how to change a spare tire, something mundane is great, but go into excruciating detail about the thing. Make sure you detail every single step, including steps that would normally be excluded as assumed – write it like you know you’re going to edit out half of it at least. Be verbose.
- Make your own list. That’s right, this list came out of me having a day where I struggled, so I sat my ass down the next day and wrote a list of things I could do the next time I struggle to get through it. Now, I’m 3/4 through my daily writing without taking many breaks – there’s a lesson in this.
Do the work, do the work
The lesson is, do the work. Sit your ass down and do the work – turn off whatever is distracting you and start writing. If your brain can’t stop thinking about a subject – guess what? FUCKING WRITE ABOUT IT! Let the beast feed. Nowhere does it say you have to let anyone see what you wrote, the idea is just to get the words flowing and follow the flow from there. I’ve written almost every day this year, but only published about 16 posts written this year – there’s a lot of writing that I haven’t shared.
I rarely end up where I intended when I start out – that’s inspiration! But the bottom line is, professionals don’t wait for inspiration to strike, they do the work, and then take advantage of the days when it does strike. They are few, and far between but if you’re not in “butt in chair” mode when inspiration strikes, you’ll regret it and you’ll miss the inspiration when it does strike. On the flip side when you are ready, and it strikes, you get the advantage of getting right into a state of flow.
Let that mother flow – don’t stop until you’re an empty shell.
Simple, not easy
Now that that’s all said, let me empathize a bit. I have weeks and entire months where I think I said nothing worthwhile. As a matter of fact, as of this writing, already into August, I’ve only transformed sixteen of this year’s (2019’s) writings into blog posts. Sixteen out of 209. I know because I track these things with my nifty Google sheet. It’s a checkbox that gets ticked if I move something out of my daily writing folder into my first editing step. But, I also go back and look at my writing after a month or so, and that’s where I find work that was better than I thought.
Often, inspiration strikes without us actually realizing it. If you don’t revisit your writing often, you won’t see it. Let your work sit for a month and then go back and reread it. You may just find that lightning stuck more than you thought. Sometimes it just hits us so hard that it causes us to blank out and not realize what happened.
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8 thoughts on “10 Ways to Write When You’re Uninspired”
Thanks for the tips Iain. I am beginning to write more and more and often wonder how other writers get and then translate inspiration onto the page. Agree it is the ‘doing’ that gets results.
Take a look at Steven Pressfield’s books on writing. As long as you don’t wait for it to strike, you’re pointed in the right direction. Thanks for the comment!
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Will do. Thanks for the recommendation!
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A great blog! I know I get ideas all the time, but they come and go like the wind. Sometimes the topics I think make great blogs or short stories never work out. Or they start out great and turn into fizzies. I have posted blogs I’ve later deleted because they’ve been whining about this or wandering aimlessly for no reason. And as for being “inspired”, it comes unbounded…and at times unwelcome…as much as it comes welcomed with open arms. Just don’t give up. The point that you want to write PERIOD is a great sign!
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Thanks, Claudia! Yeah, I sort through what I write and only a small portion gets posted. As I’ve mentioned before, as I go through this learning period, “I create a lot of crap.” The less crappy stuff gets posted.
Hey Iain, real inspirational post you have here. Glad you shared it. Plenty of advice for a poet to put to practice, but its not the poetry i need it on.
I’ve always had the urge to publish some fiction before i turn twenty five, but i just never seem to be able to put my but in a chair in order to write it; even if i had to scratch my hair.
While reading this post, your message really resonated with me, so i upped and went to grab me a chair, sat my ass in it and now just three hours later; i have a plot, characters and an idea for a culture. Tomorrow i look forward to sitting in my chair again. That’s all thanks to this post, thanks a million man!
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That’s great! The key is in the repetition – I write a lot about it. If I could go back in time and tell my pre-25-year-old self one thing, it would be to write every day, not to wait for inspiration. Keep at it – it’s a slog at times, but after one single week, you’ll have so much progress that you’ll want to keep going. Good luck and thank you for the comment!
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most welcome Iain