American novelist Jack London once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Sure, that might be extreme and a tad bit violent, but he’s not wrong. If writers always just waited for inspiration to come along, we’d get nothing done! Be honest, how often does inspiration strike you? If you tell me daily, I will think that you are a liar. Once in a blue moon (two–three years, if anyone was wondering) is more probable.
As every writer knows, writing is not easy. Many writers, me included, spend a majority of our time not actually writing, but staring at a blank screen or empty notebook page for hours, struggling to put a single word down. This usually happens because we don’t have any good ideas, are fearful that what we will write will be “bad,” or what we have to write (like a specific scene in the novel you’ve been working on) doesn’t interest us. Should you just throw in the towel when this happens? Close your computer or notebook and say you’ll get to it another time, but don’t actually mean it? No.
To quote another famous author to convince you further, Neil Gaiman says,
“If you only write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist because you’re going to have to make your word count today and those words aren’t going to wait for you whether you’re inspired or not. You have to write when you’re not inspired. And you have to write the scenes that don’t inspire you…”
Writers, especially novelists, as Neil Gaiman mentions, can’t afford to wait around. I mean, unless you want to take years just writing your book, go ahead! Who am I to stop you? But, for those of you who are eager to expedite the already long publishing process, then you have to write through the pain. You have to find inspiration for yourself.
But then the big question is, how does one go about finding inspiration? Do you need a net and binoculars? A club? A trap with cheese under a box, propped up by a stick? Okay, okay. I’ll stop joking around. Here are a few suggestions to help you find inspiration:
Do Small Tasks
Wash the dishes, take a nap, go for a walk. Inspiration can sometimes be like an old car: it needs to be jump started. The world is your oyster and is full of stuff that can spark something! For me, some of my best thoughts have come when I am showering. If I’m stuck on what should come next in my story or can’t think of how dialogue would happen between two characters, I’ll go hop in the shower. As soon as I step out, I’m rushing to get back to my laptop to type the absolute magic I conjured. So, find that small task that helps you to get the juices flowing.
Consume Other Media
Do you remember the moment you decided to be a writer? Why did you choose to do it? For me, I was inspired by the authors I read as a kid and wanted to create stories just like them. This still happens to me to this day. After reading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, I quickly started writing a magic school story myself. Maybe that’s a similar story for you. We find influences in other people’s creations. So try reading books in the genre you want to write in, listening to music, watching movies or tv shows, looking at art. I once wrote a short story about Sandman because I listened to a sad version of “Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes.
Writing Prompts / Free Write
You can find thousands upon thousands of writing prompts online, so start experimenting! Try timing yourself so you can get through them quickly and not overthink what you are writing. Not all of them will lead anywhere, but you might come across one that will inspire you to go back to that idea and continue it. You don’t have to be tied down by a writing prompt either. When words are flowing down on the page, let that guide you! Now, if writing prompts aren’t your thing, you could try free writing. Whatever comes to mind, write it, and don’t stop writing! Once again, time yourself and just go for it. It might seem like all nonsense, but if you comb through what you have written, you might find some gold.
Play Spy; Observe Others
While you are out, pay attention to the people around you. How do they walk? How do they talk? How are they dressed? Maybe this can inspire a type of character you want to try writing about. Or the conversation you overhear is so crazy that you want to fictionalize it. Like I said, the world is your oyster and even real life can influence us to write. Ideas don’t exclusively have to come fresh from your mind.
Talk With Other Writers
Writing tends to be a solitary activity, but it doesn’t always have to be. If you have a community of writers near you or online, seek out help from them. Brainstorm ideas and work through tough writing patches together. Read each other's work. No one will get your troubles as much as another writer and it’s fun to collaborate. Even if you are coming up with silly story ideas, just give it a try and write! Not every piece of writing you do needs to be your magnum opus.
Now that you have some techniques to find inspiration, go find it! No more waiting.