Thoughts on Inspiration, Part 2: The Fine Art of Faking It

Writing is special. It is.

Telling stories for a living and having other people connect with those stories is magical.

And that’s part of the problem when it comes to inspiration. Sometimes, honoring the magic of writing prevents us from doing the work of writing, especially when we buy into the belief that we shouldn’t write unless the great and almighty voice of Inspiration is visiting on that day.

When we accept that idea, we go about your business of day jobs and picking up kids and making lasagna…waiting for Inspiration to come.  And the more we wait, the further away she drifts until it feels like we might never write anything worthwhile again.

For me, the best invitation for Inspiration to show up is a nicely set table…or desk as the case may be.  When the laptop is humming and the notebook open, the planning pages laid out just the way she likes them, with the colored pens and Post-It notes, she starts to snuffle outside the door. The clincher, though, is me, inside the room, working without her.  If I show up to work, with or without her, it’s a whole lot more likely that Inspiration will consider showing up, too.

So how to get started?  Here are five things I do to feel inspired when I’m not.

1. Go to your writing place.  For me, that place is now the room we built off the back of the house, a tiny room for only writing and not the business of writing.  But it doesn’t have to be anything that fancy.  For years, it was a corner of the kitchen table after my kids went to bed, the third table by the wall at my local coffee shop, and the study carrel near the books on tape at my public library.

2. Brew a really nice cup of tea.  Fact: I have special, nicer tea for when I’m feeling like I need to make a writing time feel more sacred.   Or hot chocolate. Or water with extra lemon. Or whatever your writing beverage of choice might be.

3. Find a focus object. Sometimes, I’ll change my computer background to an image that relates to my project – a tornado, a snowflake…something beautiful or powerful. Sometimes, I’ll put an object on my desk to ground me in the world of my book. This symbolic act can make writing more of a ritual, and that helps to honor the magic while still honoring the work. I know a writer who lights a candle when she starts a new book, and I think that’s lovely.

4. Protect the time.  Set a timer, and stay off the Internet. Silence your phone. The muse is a jealous sort and isn’t likely to show up if you call her and then start texting with someone else.

5. Make peace with the imperfect. If you regard those crummy sentences you write when you first sit down as the warm-up, the invitation that simply must be issued before Inspiration arrives, then you’ll feel less pressure to make them perfect. Look at writing without Inspiration as an act of courage, and be proud that you’ve shown up to do your job.

What about you? What do you do to feel inspired when you don’t start out that way?

12 Replies on “Thoughts on Inspiration, Part 2: The Fine Art of Faking It

  1. It is so very easy to let daily life eat into the time needed to create. A cup of coffee and a sketch book to start doodling works best to jump start my brain when I fall out of a daily work habit.

  2. Would you believe… I do dishes? For some reason, it is one of the best ways for ideas to start just erupting out of my head. I almost always have to stop for a moment partway through—some days more than once—and jot down an idea on an index card: a title, a character name, a setting, a plot device. I always have a pen and a stack of index cards nearby, in several areas of the house—near the living room, next to the computer, even some in my shirt pocket—so I won’t miss that brilliant (all right, sometimes NOT so brilliant) flash of inspiration that always arrives with no preamble. Other “busy” work can also lead to flashes, but dishes seem to be the most inspirational.

    1. Actually, I do believe it. I’ve had those flashes of suddenly understanding a manuscript at the kitchen sink & in the garden, too – though even more often when I’m just out for a walk.

  3. These are great tips, Kate! We’ve been talking about this very topic in my writing group lately. I really like your #5 for when I’m feeling like I can’t “let” myself write anything less than great. But it seems like I get the most exciting ideas when I’m unable to do anything about them–either when I’m driving or showering!

  4. I’ve had the kitchen sink visitations, as well. Inspiration also enjoys being in the car or walking — she likes movement — and she loves the shower!

    I love the thought of a focus object, and realize that I used to do that. For one novel I was working on (that’s never seen the light of day) I had a little girl figurine and a little boy, to symbolize the two children in the novel. Thank you for inspiring me to return to the ritual of a focus object.

  5. I go out for a run or swim. When I get home, I scribble all of my ideas into my notebook with the hopes that I will be able to read my scribbles.

    Thanks for the tips!