Looking for motivation?
“I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” —Peter De Vries
It’s wonderful to feel inspired to write, to be swept off your feet, words flowing, fingers moving as fast as they can. You’re simultaneously jotting down creative connections and ideas on a notepad and wishing you’d practiced better when you did that online touch typing course.
What a shame we can’t feel like that all the time.
Or can we?
Inspiration isn’t like lightning.
Inspiration isn’t something that strikes, like lightning. It isn’t something that comes and goes of its own free will. It’s something we can generate, like energy. We might think it’s outside of us, but it really isn’t.
To maintain a successful writing habit we need to stop romanticising this idea of inspiration, as if it were something separate from us, separate from the ‘work’, something magical that walks in and out of our lives at will; the mysterious muse.
Inspiration, for a writer, is something to be managed; something we can control, in the same way we control our meal times.
Most of us don’t wait to feel hungry, we eat at regular times, the only question being what we will have, rather than whether we feel inspired to eat.
Fuelling our creativity is the same as fuelling our body — it’s something we have to take responsibility for, not the other way round.
Inspiration for writers:
Inspiration comes from within, and those writers — indeed anyone — who manages to build a successful creative career, are the ones who find ways to drag it out and bend it to their will.
So, if you’re ready to grasp inspiration by the horns and see where you can take it, it’s time to discover some fool-proof hacks to drag your inspiration out of hiding, and put it to good use.
Finding your inspiration:
“If you wait for inspiration before you write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” —Dan Poynter
It is true that there’s a process of mental stimulation that we associate with the feeling of inspiration. But we can generate that same feeling in a wide variety of situations or activities.
Once we know how to trick that voice in our head that says “oh let’s wait ’till you feel motivated,” then we become unstoppable.
And if one of these hacks doesn’t work – no excuses – just try another.
Let’s get physical.
Aerobic exercise is a fantastic quick-fix for your brain when you’re running short on inspiration.
Not to get too technical, but there’s a physical effect from the increased cardio-vascular activity that increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, causing an increase in interaction between it and the amygdala.
Put simply, the amygdala is an ancient part of our brain (evolutionarily speaking) and is responsible for signals of fear and anxiety. Exercise suppresses activity at the amygdala, and therefore, it suppresses those voices that tell us we can’t do it, or that we aren’t good enough.
Those voices can crowd-out our inspiration and creativity, so quietening them allows our creativity to shine through.
1. Go for a run. I love running — there’s something very freeing about being in motion and, as you can read here, it frees your subconscious to make connections — which is why you have your best ideas out on the trail!
2. Play tennis. Unlike running, a sport like tennis requires concentration and focus. You’ll get a break from your writing but you won’t have the same free flow of ideas. Enjoy the change of pace though and return refreshed.
3. Take a brisk walk. ‘Brisk’ being the operative word here – the rule of thumb is, if you can hold a conversation while walking, you’re not walking fast enough.
4. Swim some laps. A great way to turn off your mind chatter and relax your body.
5. Cycle to the shops and back. Use the time to run an errand or go and pick up a library book. You’ll get the same benefit as running but (unless you live in a very hilly area) it’s a little more gentle on your body. Plus, you get to multi-task by picking up your shopping!
Take inspiration from others.
Moods are contagious, so if you’re in need of positive vibes and some creative inspiration, then it makes sense to seek out, and spend some time with, the most positive and inspiring people you know.
The bonus tip here is not to just drop in on them hoping for some stirring words. Rather, make sure you ask for exactly what it is you want.
If that’s ideas, ask them to bounce some ideas around with you. If you want to be distracted and take your mind off the work, ask your partner or friend to go for a walk, or play some sport with you.
Hopefully you’ll be able to reciprocate when it’s their turn to ask for support!
6. Email your mentor or writing coach for ideas on how to overcome this inspiration drought. If you’re smart, you’ll have a coach, or you’ll belong to a mastermind group. Use those connections when you’re hitting a low point — that’s what they’re there for!
7. Call your parents, a partner or other family member and tell them to give you a reason to write. Hopefully you have someone in your immediate family who is supporting what you do. They might not understand exactly what you’re doing but they love you and want you to succeed.
8. Ask your best friend to share with you a time when things were tough for them, and how they got through it. You know that saying — a problem shared is a problem halved…? Open up with a friend and ask him or her to share a time when things were hard and how they got through it. Listening to other people’s stories can inspire our own solutions.
9. Approach a colleague/an ex-colleague who is in a similar place to you and ask how they find inspiration.
10. Ask on Facebook. It’s always a bit weird asking on social media but I’m usually glad I did. My friends often have an angle I hadn’t thought of, or will say something that makes me laugh. Just don’t use it as a distraction…
Stimulate your mind.
Have you ever watched a great movie, or read an inspiring book and stayed awake for hours, with hundreds of ideas and possibilities whirring through your mind?
Or clicked on a link on Twitter and ended up watching a speech by someone you’ve never heard of talk about something you don’t know anything about? But you can’t let the idea go?
Inspiration clicks into place with the (seemingly) random connections and the trick for a writer is to actively seek these kinds of brain stimulants when we need to feel inspired.
11. Watch an inspirational movie. With streaming media like Netflix and Amazon, it’s so easy to access a movie wherever we are. Here are What Culture’s top picks (my vote goes to Babe!)
12. Listen to (or read) inspirational speeches. Whether you prefer TED talks or graduation speeches, there’s a huge choice of inspiring speakers who are sure to light a fire in your imagination.
13. Utilise hashtags. Go to Twitter, Instagram, or the social media platform of your choice, search for #inspiration and see what comes up…
14. Read the biography of your hero, or someone who inspires you. Who can fail to be? You might think you already know everything about them, but chances are, you’ll find something new.
15. Fill your blog stream and Facebook stream with inspirational sights and people – here’s the Author Unlimited pick of our favourite (and most inspiring) Facebook pages. It doesn’t all have to be about cats!
Calm your mind.
If stimulating your mind doesn’t bring on a rush of inspiration, it might be worth taking the opposite approach.
Sometimes we get blocked because we are unfocused, and have too many ideas in our head. We need to take a step back, get perspective, and choose the direction of movement.
Practicing different methods of mindfulness has health benefits, including lowering your blood pressure and reducing stress, and this will help if stress or overwhelm is getting in the way of your next dose of inspiration.
16. Meditation. Start small, just 5 minutes once or twice a day.
17. Practice relaxation yoga, or to get the benefits of mindfulness plus exercise, go for a more dynamic yoga practice.
18. Breathing exercises. When I started yoga, one of my friends told me it was really just a form of breathing exercise, but you can take the breathing without the yoga if you want. It has similar benefits of slowing your body, and calming your mind.
19. Swimming. Take slow, steady laps and just enjoy the weightlessness of being in the water. This is about taking the pressure off your body, not adding to it.
20. Go for a long, slow hike and immerse yourself in nature. The benefits of nature and creativity include making you more intelligent (honestly!).
Add a little creative pressure.
Research shows that we work at our very best when our talents are pushed, but not stretched past breaking point. That is, we must be pushed out of our comfort zone, but not to the point where we feel like failure is inevitable.
When our instincts kick in, our brain focuses, and our best work is done, because that’s the way nature requires us to act under pressure.
But how do we re-create this to get inspired and achieve our best work without having to put ourselves in a stressful situation?
21. Make use of deadlines, or set your own. We might resist them but they work. Set up an accountability structure, or impose deadlines on yourself — and stick to them!
22. Put on some unfamiliar music. With your brain having to focus harder to block out the music, you’ll find your inspiration to write grows stronger. This is the equivalent of a double espresso for your focus — not something we’d recommend every day but sometimes needs must.
23. Write in unfamiliar surroundings. Being in the same environment day in day out will stifle your creativity and you might find writing with a backdrop of chatter in a coffee shop will have a similar, stimulating effect to the unfamiliar music.
24. Write with a pen. This is a solution I recommend to clients who are stuck. There’s nothing like pen and paper to shift your perspective on your writing. You’ll soon find out what’s important and what’s not when you have to write it out by hand.
25. Make mistakes. And leave them in. Go away knowing you’ve got spelling errors and you’ve included random thoughts where they don’t seem to fit. You won’t be able to stop thinking about your writing and, when you revisit the piece with fresh eyes. you’ll feel pushed to make changes.
When you write, more so than doing other activities I think, you have to find a way of bringing your own inspiration. Genius might be one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, but that one percent can be very powerful.
Stop waiting for inspiration, though, to creep up on you. Get out there, grab it, and put it to some good use to help you write. Choose your favourite tactics from this list and use them as your go-to solutions when you need to flush out inspiration from her hiding place.
Because she definitely isn’t going to be out there looking for you.