Ever tried searching for inspiration at the bottom of a paper cup of skim cappuccino?
I have! It’s not there is it.
Unfortunately, an untold sum of fieldwork has proven that coffee does not automatically make you a better writer.
Writers hit ruts. It’s a fact of the practice. You go at it with disciplined action, however you reach a point where you are so drained that the sight of your words on papermakes your eyes hurt.
Take your hands away from the keyboard and breath.
We’ve all been there, but contrary to popular belief, at this point, your writing project will not re-inspire you. I repeat, don’t expect your writing to re-inspire you. Because (A) it’s not going to happen, and (B) it’s not your project’s responsibility to inspire you anyway. That’s your job.
That said, I’ve got a great technique that I’ve been using to make writing feel alive and thrilling again, even after the exasperation point. I’ve named it: Backwards Inspiration Generation.
Basically it’s the idea that you create an internal state of being inspired and stimulated first, and then move to the page, rather than the other way around (i.e. look at the page and expect to be inspired).
It’s based on the idea that emotions are generated by internal triggers rather than external triggers. Have you ever noticed that?
When we have a certain emotional state the world around us fits to match.
For instance when you wake up crabby, the first thing you do is stub your toe, then the coffee tastes disgusting, and when you open your e-mail it’s full of junk and a ton of stuff you don’t want to do. However when you wake up and you’re in love, you don’t even notice that you stubbed our toe, your stale coffee tastes great, and your e-mail is full of exciting opportunities and articles you can’t wait to read.
Basically, your mood dictates the reality of your experience, rather than the other way around.
So how does this apply to writing?
Being inspired is a state of excitement and stimulation. Often I can feel it bubbling up inside of me even before I sit down to write. That’s exactly how Backwards Inspiration Generation works.
Here are simple steps to get inspiration to bubble up even before you sit down to write:
Step 1: Put down the pen
I used to regularly hit a phase that I refer to as “muling,” in which I’m the mule and my story was a one ton wagon of cargo I’m hauling up a mountain. Then I realized something, the muling phase continued as long as I kept hauling. It could last up to a month, until the sight of my project made me ill. So, the short cut here is, PUT THE PEN DOWN.
Step 2: Scan the Panorama and Adjust your Lens
After a lengthy writing streak, a lot of other aspects in life get neglected. The next step is to adjust your lens, let your writing blur in the background and zoom in on something else that needs your attention. Something completely non-writing related. I try to pick a task that I can be immediately successful at, like a family trip, an organization project, or something visual like painting a room.
Step 3: Devour that New Project
Once you’ve chosen your non-writing related, new and exciting task, devour it. Give it all your attention until you finish it. The idea is to direct your mind in a completely different direction. If you revert back to the writing, you will likely get frustrated again. Forget about it. Do the new thing and get it done. This should engender a sense of pride and excitement, which is exactly what you need to get back on track.
Step 4: Bring it back to the page
Take a deep breath and get back to work. Try to keep an open mind and see what new ideas flow in. A little distance from a problem can go a long way, especially where writing is concerned. This doesn’t mean that writing will suddenly be easy but I have found that it’s easier than staying in that sedentary state of having nothing to say.
Writing is always a balance between disciplined action and the necessary downtime that creativity requires. In fact, more and more research has shown that discipline is like a muscle, which means its important to train hard, but also allow the space for growth. And although it may never be easy, it’s certainly more enjoyable when you’re fully charged.