On Inspiration

Haven’t heard from the 9 muses lately? That’s not a big surprise, is it? Greek mythological figures are notoriously unreliable. Do you really need them to write? Writing definitely feels easier and better when I feel inspired. There’s something inexplicable, mystical even, about being arrested by inspiration, by a glimpse of an idea that makes me pull the car to the side of the road and scribble in my notebook.

But it doesn’t always happen like that. Sometimes writing is hard work. Here are a few ideas to get you through those times when you can’t find inspiration:

1. Keep Writing. Giving up won’t get you anywhere. If you don’t continue writing regularly, despite this obstacle, you’ll lose both the mechanics of your craft and the ability to feel inspiration when it does resurface. When I don’t feel it, I switch from trying to force poetry to writing observations in prose. It keeps my pen moving and my eyes open.
A lot of my poetry is observational anyway, so it helps me to sit in a cafe or mall or park or wherever and simply jot things down. I might not have the perfect metaphor that I would so easily find under inspiration, but writing done during spells like this makes me a better writer. Sometimes what I collect turns into poetry later. I revisit my notes and find myself mentally returned to when I wrote them, and that’s when I can shape them into verse and add all those fancy rhetorical devices like simile, metaphor, alliteration, etc.
Lurking in the corner of the cafe and writing about people not your style? Try structured exercises. The internet has no shortage of writing prompts. Here are some from Writer’s Digest. Even though most of my poems are free verse, assigning myself forms is often helpful. Another way to play with the form idea is to assign yourself a different genre of writing. I write mostly poetry, so I may assign myself fiction or non-fiction prose writing.

2. Give Yourself a Deadline. Self-discipline is not my greatest virtue, so applying external pressure helps me a lot. Maybe your deadline can be self-imposed. I sometimes commit to a contest or submission deadline and, instead of sending something that’s already ready, I tell myself that I must write a new poem, story, or essay. One way to avoid giving in to submitting a previously completed work is to choose a contest/submission that is topical.
Another method of deadline setting I employ is telling my editing friends that I will send them something by a certain date or at a certain interval. This can be easy to skirt with excuses, so choose friends who won’t let you get away with that.

3. Read. If you care at all about you’re writing, you should read a lot anyway, but I think reading is especially important when you feel uninspired. I try to read a mix of books that includes authors who write in a similar style as I and authors who write quite differently. Challenge yourself.

4. Edit. Your work and others’ work. I have a few friends who share writing with each other. It makes us all better, I think. In regard to editing my own writing, I find that lack of inspiration can actually benefit the editing process. It allows me to look at the mechanics of writing. Even if you write free verse or prose, there are mechanics to consider. Your poetry may not have set rules for lines and stanzas, but it does have a rhythm that can be worked on with or without inspiration.

I hope these thoughts are helpful. Perhaps I’ll have more to say on the matter another time.

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4 thoughts on “On Inspiration

  1. Ugh. Thank you. Something that annoys me are when I meet people who say that they want to be writers if only they had the time or the inspiration. I always want to yell at them to make time and find your own inspiration. But work manners and civility prevent me from beating them over the head.
    Great advice for a beginning writer. I would also stress when you read to read outside your genre. Poets can learn a lot from nonfiction. Fiction from poets, nonfiction from screenwriters and etc.

  2. Great advice. I use contest deadlines a lot to keep me going. One Shot Wednesday has also really helped me because I need to have a poem ready to go up each Wednesday. It helps to have a set schedule as well. If I write at my desk everyday at 7 then eventually at 7 when I sit at my desk I will be inspired to write because I’ve trained myself!

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