Staying Inspired

There’s this thing in writing. You know it. That burst of inspiration. That dizzy can’t-eat-can’t-sleep love for a new story idea. That feverish hunching over your keyboard to get all the thoughts down as swiftly as possible, before they go the way of so many 1AM ideas.

You probably know that feeling.

And then the feeling that comes when you’re a few chapters in and struggling to find the courage to sit down at the computer (or get off Twitter) because this writing thing is hard and why did you want to write this story, anyway? It’s just not going well. You’re not inspired anymore. Maybe you took a wrong turn somewhere and you’re going to have to start over and OMC.

Maybe you’ve never felt the anti-inspiredness to that degree. I hope you haven’t. I hope to commas. But if you have felt it, you’re not alone. Do not despair.

You know that saying about genius/creativity/whatever being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? Well, it’s true. You can’t rely on inspiration to get you through five rewrites for plot and characters, another thirteen revisions to fix all the details and bring out your themes, and then another four drafts to do line edits and polish that prose. As much as I love my stories, I definitely run out of inspiration and have that . . . Ugh. AGAIN? Ugh. feeling when it’s time to flip back to the beginning and read it one (or twelve) more time(s).

But, though nothing really compares to that first rush of storylove, there are some things you can do to stay inspired, at least while you’re working through your first and second drafts. (Personally, while I love revising and making things better — and that’s inspiration enough for me — it doesn’t seem to require the same kind of feverish storylove.)

1. Daydream.

Your imagination is one of your most valuable writing tools. Exercise it! Stretch it!

I know you’re busy, but take some time to daydream about your world, your characters, and the next scene you want to write. Play the next few scenes in your head at night. Imagine dialogue. Internalize the emotions. Replay the next parts of your story in a few different ways, refining it until it fits just right.

When you sit down to write, you don’t have to wonder what happens. You already know the events and how your characters feel and react. You’ve already experienced this part of the story, and you have only (haha) to translate it into words.

And don’t stop there. Why not daydream about something in your world or in your characters’ lives that doesn’t make it into the story? Just because it’s not in the story doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable thing to know about. The more you know about your character and world, the stronger foundation you have when you write them. Maybe you only mention something in passing — or never at all — but knowing extra details gives your characters and world a depth readers can feel spilling off the edges of the pages.

2. Research.

While I don’t recommend Wikipedia as your primary research source, I do recommend it for getting inspired.

Has this ever happened to you? You open Wikipedia to check something, see a related article and take a peek, then see another related article, then see another related article . . . and pretty soon you don’t even remember what you were looking up originally, but you’ve discovered some fascinating ideas in the meantime.

Researching can inspire new directions of thought and deeper authenticity to your world or characters. If your character is a chiropractor, research chiropractic stuff. Interview a chiropractor! You can show your character’s job coloring their life by their observations, like noticing whether a person slouched and would have a bad back in the future, or if they had some kind of neck pain…Same thing for worldbuilding. If you’ve got a planet orbiting two suns (a real thing!), do some research on how the orbit would look and when the suns would rise and set. Give your world a sense of authenticity by adding in important details. (And maybe even details about how the characters in your world view having two suns? Or deal with extended daylight re: farming, sleeping, secret in-the-middle-of-the-night spy stuff.)

I think I went a little overboard with the examples there — sorry — but the idea of using research to inform characters and worldbuilding really excites me.

3. Talking.

Enthusiasm is contagious. While I know there are people who can’t talk about their work-in-progress until they have a draft or two completed, there are just as many people who get a thrill from discussing their latest project with their friends and crit partners. They brainstorm plot solutions, worldbuildling details, or character arcs — or just share some of the main points of the story.

I recommend letting your friend know what you’re looking for in response before you start yammering about your story, that way no one gets hurt feelings, but I can’t begin to tell you the number of times friends have helped me untangle a plot point or worldbuilding problem, or steered me away from making a dumb mistake before I could ever make it. And when we’re all excited about something . . . well, remember about enthusiasm being contagious.

What are some of the ways you stay inspired?


21 Responses to Staying Inspired

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Jul 9 2012 at 6:52 am #

    I often have multiple stories going at once. When inspiration flags on one I work on another. What seems like a bottleneck may vanish under the light of a different sun. Getting through the maze may seem easier following a different thread, since they’re all my threads and it’s all one big maze.
    Daydreaming (as you call it here) is my primary technique for advancing the story, watching the movie as it plays in my head. I also get inspiration from real daydreaming, although this is much harder to do, since you have to be both paying attention and not paying attention at the same time.
    I like revisions, too. Many of my best lines come from rereading the story for the nth time and having a new line pop into my head as I go.

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2012 at 11:13 am #

      That’s fascinating! I know a few people who can work on multiple stories at once, but not many. I’m always really impressed by those who can.

  2. Lauren Jul 9 2012 at 7:04 am #

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I daydream a lot – when driving, mostly, which probably isn’t THAT safe – and it really helps. It lets me reenact a scene in my mind and reconstruct it until it feels right. No deleting words that way, no writing myself into a wall. It allows me to have fun with my story, and get re-pumped, so to say, to write it again.

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2012 at 11:14 am #

      LOL! Yes, be careful when you daydream and drive!

  3. CB Soulsby Jul 9 2012 at 7:20 am #

    It’s good to know I am not alone on this. Nothing saps my creativity more than those moments of doubt when I think ” a real writer wouldn’t find it this hard.”

    I get inspired by imagining how my stories would look on the big screen. And by imagining what my character’s are up to between all the interesting stuff (you know, like cleaning their teeth and drinking tea…) I kind of treat them like celebraties in that sense… Oh, and by reading blogs about inspiration. Thanks!

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2012 at 11:17 am #

      Oh dude! If you write, you’re a real writer. That’s all there is to it. And real writers feel things ALL THE TIME. They find things difficult ALL THE TIME. (In fact, the more you write, the more difficult it seems to be. . . .)

      Ahaha, so you stalk your characters. That’s awesome and hilarious. And a little scary for your characters. 😉

  4. Edith Jul 9 2012 at 9:32 am #

    This is an incredibly helpful article. Thank you! Each point you raise here is important. I am particularly fond of giving my imagination the time and space to roam where it will!

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2012 at 11:19 am #

      That’s a VERY important part of writing! I think we get so bogged down in the WORK part of it we forget to let our imaginations exercise.

  5. Megan Duff Jul 9 2012 at 10:26 am #

    I love this post, Jodi! I try to find little things everyday to get me inspired. It’s amazing what a really good book can do for my creativity 😀

    I just found this the other day:

    It’s 29 Ways to Stay Creative, so pretty much an extension of this post! Enjoy!

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2012 at 11:20 am #

      Oh that’s a great image! Thank you for sharing it. All those things are SO TRUE!

  6. Heather Jul 9 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    Thanks so much, Jodi. I just experienced a major anti-inspiration last week after I THOUGHT I had the literary breakthrough of the century…reading this post has given me courage to take another crack at it (and it even showed me a fantastic way to improve my opening scene!). Thank you! =D

    • jodimeadows Jul 10 2012 at 8:30 am #

      Oh man, that must have been a blow, but I’m glad you’re feeling more encouraged now! You CAN do it! 😀

  7. Erin Bowman Jul 9 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Great post, Jodi! Keeping the well of creativity full is so important. (And mine seems to run dry often.) Traveling is a great way to get inspired, but my wallet doesn’t like to do it to often. If I can’t travel, I find hiking inspiring. And going to museums. Also: MUSIC. <3

    • jodimeadows Jul 10 2012 at 8:31 am #

      Oh yes, traveling! Definitely. But my wallet agrees with your wallet.

  8. Leigh Smith Jul 9 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    Yes! Daydreaming! That is the best way to get me pumped to write an upcoming scene. The scary thing is that I can play it through ten different times in my head and every time end up going somewhere else.

    • jodimeadows Jul 10 2012 at 8:32 am #

      Daydreaming is one of my very favorite things! But sometimes I forget to do it.

      It sounds like you have a very active imagination! 😀

  9. Catherine Stine Jul 10 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Hi, this post was just what I needed to read at this point in time. I am feeling resistance to sitting down and plowing through a rough draft of a sequel. I’ll bookmark your post and read it when my spirit flags. Thanks!

  10. Claire M. Caterer Jul 11 2012 at 8:02 am #

    Thanks so much for posting, Jodi. Those are great tips. I use research quite often to find inspiration, and also just general reading. I like to have my favorite novels close to hand. Just reading a beloved chapter or two reminds me of why I love what I do.

    • jodimeadows Jul 11 2012 at 9:56 am #

      Ooo, favorite novels close by! That’s a nice one!

      • Marc Vun Kannon Jul 11 2012 at 12:04 pm #

        I often get inspired by bad novels. I can’t help but think I could do better. Good novels inspire me to think of things I would like to have seen but didn’t.

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