3 Life-Changing Rules for Finding More Writing Inspiration This Year

Writing inspiration—so easy to take for granted when we have it, so hard to rekindle once we’ve let the flame go out.

When I was young, I never questioned the fact that my imagination was a vivid and constant companion. It was a river flooding through my life and in whose waters I could baptize myself whenever I wished—and I wished often. I was a dreamer of dreams and a viewer of visions. As a child, I would stare out the window on long trips and watch as horses and bandits and cowboys and wild outlaw lovers raced through the rolling countryside beside the car. I never washed dishes or pulled weeds or rode my horses or jumped on the trampoline without my creativity adding something to the seen in ways unseen to others but deeply vivid and meaningful to myself.

I took my ever-present imagination for granted, just as I took it for granted that my young body was invincible to any real danger from falling off that tramp or getting stomped by one of those horses. In those numinous years of innocence and naiveté, it never would even have occurred to me think this glorious inspiration was something I could lose. How could I lose something that was as ordinary to me as running or seeing?

But we get older. I quit running after I sprained my knee for the third time. The only reason I still see well is thanks to the miracle of Lasik surgery. And as I’ve spoken about with increasing bemusement over the last few years, creativity gets creaky too.

Who knew?

Perhaps because creativity is so innately tied to our very life force, we have this sense that it couldn’t possibly dry up on us. Not this side of the grave. But really this is an illogical assumption. Life itself dries up if we aren’t vigilant to care for it in all its manifestations—body, heart, mind, and soul. And creativity is ultimately the output of all four. If we’re failing to reach for health in even just one of these areas (and in all likelihood we’re struggling across the board), our creativity will suffer.

Life has taught me this. Its lessons have been long and painful—full of fear and grief that perhaps I unwittingly squandered something precious that could not be restored—that the horses would no longer run beside me on my travels through life.

But I’m starting to hear hoofbeats again. More than that, I’m beginning to see how this decade of lessons has given me some important gifts for building a foundation that will protect and nurture my creative health and my writing inspiration as I enter this new decade.

I find myself incredibly excited to be entering 2020. I’m entering it with three very specific goals/rules/plans/resolutions/lessons (whatever you want to call them) that I believe will be life-changing. None of them are new or revolutionary. All are obvious and necessary to a healthy writing life. It’s not “what” they are that’s exciting to me, but rather the fact that I feel like this year I once again understand “how” to implement them. I’m sharing them with you now in hopes they might inspire your own creative rebirth (however great or small) in the coming year and the coming decade.

My 3 Rules for Nurturing Writing Inspiration in the New Year

I’m referring to these ideas mostly as “rules,” even though I realize that’s a tricky word for creatives.

Creativity itself is such a wild and woolly energy. In the dance between order and chaos, it represents chaos. As an inherently orderly person, I’m coming to appreciate that chaos gets a bad rap. Indeed, my own obsession with order has contributed to the waning “chaos” of creativity in my life. But chaos run amok is just as bad (I’ve been there too). It’s that tension point between chaos and order where the magic unspools.

In trying to understand what this means and how it manifests in my life, my current understanding leads me to believe living in the calm eye of life’s storm means listening to what the chaos says and using that creativity to evolve the orderly structures of our lives. It’s about learning to listen to the spontaneous wisdom of the moment in a way that allows us to build meaningful order.

In an analogy more familiar to writers, finding this tension point is about catching our spontaneous and chaotic inspiration and organizing it into coherent words and stories on the page. It’s about creativity becoming craft. If that principle is to flourish in our writing, it must first flourish in our lives.

So, again, I’m referring to these ideas as “rules” mostly because my orderly brain finds its most comfortable partnership with chaos via a few well-chosen schedules and structures. But they are not rules, schedules, or structures for the sake of rules. They are rules built upon creativity’s urgings in order to serve creativity. I have every certainty these rules will not remain in place for the rest of my life. Creativity, chaos, and spontaneity will ask for something else, and I hope to be listening attentively enough to hear and adjust on the spot—rather than letting the need for change build up for another decade.

1. Figure Out the Best Writing Time of the Day

It’s weird, but right around when I became a “full-time writer,” the actual fiction-writing started taking more and more of a backseat. All the business aspects of writing just always seemed more important, more urgent, more stressful. So of course they got more of my attention. Even though I have always prioritized a daily writing session, the sessions began to be intruded upon more and more by thoughts about the non-writing parts of being a writer. For those who work jobs other than writing, raise children, or, you know, have email—I’m sure you understand what I mean.

But if we’re not giving premium attention to the hours dedicated to our writing, how can we possibly hope to prioritize creativity during other parts of our days?

Finding the best time to write can be harder than it seems. Not only must we juggle tight schedules, we must also be realistic about which times are times we will actually feel like writing. If you’re like me, your first reaction to that might be, “Suck it up, dude. Real writers can write anywhere anytime.” To which the truthful response is, “Yeah, but only if they take care of their creativity.”

Here are three of the tips I’ve used to find my best writing time:

  • Hack Your Daily Schedule

For the past year, I wrote for about an hour in the evenings. I liked that time, but it wasn’t ideal for a number of reasons, including the fact that it was just an hour, as well as the variance of my energy by that point in the day. But it just seemed like there wasn’t any other time that would work for me—until I got serious. I charted out my daily schedule, blocked off the times and duties that were set in stone, then started juggling things around to see where I could possibly find a longer slot of uninterrupted time earlier in the day. With only a few comparatively minor sacrifices, I was able to block off 90 minutes before lunch.

  • Listen to Your Intuition

You know those days when you sit down to write and you just. don’t. want. to? For a long time, I’ve wanted to move my writing into the hours after lunch. By far, it’s the most convenient time for me on a daily basis. But I just. don’t. want. to. Blame it on my busy digestion or the inevitable mid-afternoon slump, but my worst procrastination time is always that first hour after lunch. I know I’m not going to write my best, make full use of my writing time, or enjoy my writing if I schedule it then. On the surface, it’s not the most orderly decision, and yet I know chaos eventually ensues when I try too hard to force myself to do things that don’t feel good.

  • Find the “Yes”

My brother has a saying that’s become almost a mantra in my family:

If it’s not a yes, it’s a no.

Too often, we dismiss that insistent little voice in our heads (the one telling us not to write right after lunch, no matter how convenient). What does it know? It just wants us to be lazy or self-indulgent. But artists, of all people, should know the voices in our heads have truths to speak.

Here’s a truth I’m starting to clue in on: when we start listening to the “no’s,” the “yes’s” become a whole lot clearer.

As I was hacking away at my schedule to find a writing time I would be able to stick with consistently and productively, I listened when that voice said “no.” And when it said “yes,” I listened to that too because I knew what it wanted me to do might require more discipline, but ultimately far less effort.

2. Find Time for “Pointless” Creativity

I kinda lost sight of this one over the years. I thought because I was a professional creative who showed up at the desk two hours a day, five days a week, and produced novels on a regular schedule that I was being creative every day. And, of course, I was. But after that first book was published, this creativity became work. It was fun work for the most part; certainly, it was rewarding work. But it was my job. I forgot how to play. And that right there is the linchpin to this whole dilemma.

  • Separate “Work” Writing From “Fun” Writing

At the recommendation of someone who commented on last year’s post “Are You Struggling to Be Creative? This Might Be Why” (in which I talked about a huge breakthrough I had in working through my creative block), I’m in the throes of reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

Just in reading the first chapter, it struck me: “Wow, I’ve been way more blocked than I realized.” Already, Cameron has helped me see the importance of not just showing up to do the work of writing on a regular basis, but also the importance of encouraging that old playfulness of creative spontaneity, which I took for granted as a child.

Another reason for scheduling a solid and productive time for my “work” writing is to free up time in the evenings so I can concentrate on “playing” with my creativity. I realized that if I was going to reclaim the habit of playing, I would need to make time for it. Otherwise, it wasn’t going to happen. It would get lost—just as it has gotten lost for the last ten years—in the busyness, distraction, and exhaustion of the day. Perhaps someday it will come back to me as naturally as it did when I was a kid. But for now, I see the need to be a nurturing parent to myself and make sure my imagination is getting regular play dates.

  • Talk to Your Subconscious

Not only is this creative time intended to be fun, it’s also a much-needed and oft-forgotten opportunity to give my creativity time and space (and sustenance) to do its thing. Story ideas and writing inspiration often come out of the blue. But how many of these gifts do we miss out on because we’re not primed to listen? By conscientiously using some of the following exercises, I’m showing up to my imagination, so my imagination will get back in the habit of showing up for me.

  • Journal

I’ve never been big on journaling, especially when it came to writing prompts and otherwise “not-for-real” writing. If I was going to write, why not do the important writing? But this year I’m making regular time to pursue a variety of journaling challenges. In addition to a variation of Cameron’s famed “morning pages,” I’ve also started a dream journal, a happiness journal, and I plan to begin nightly “story pages”—in which I handwrite three pages of narrative fiction about… whatever strikes my fancy.

In the past I’ve disliked writing prompts that encouraged me to write about “anything,” because how boring to have to write three on-demand pages about the mailman or the neighbor’s dog or whatever. But I’m realizing that (for me anyway), the key is to tap into my subconscious’ visual well—where all my story visuals come from. All I have to do is find that same feeling I get when I know I’m onto something good in my daydreams—and write it out. Although I hope these pages will offer grist for my actual novels, they’re really intended just for me. The writing doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s just a sandbox to play in.

  • Dreamzone

I’m also planning to make regular time for dreamzoning this year. “Dreamzoning” is Robert Olen Butler‘s word for intensive, purposeful daydreaming. My favored dreamzoning routine is playing music and building a fire. Historically, this is where I get all my best ideas. So really my only question to myself at this point is, “Why didn’t I make this a regular thing a long time ago?”

  • Take Your Imagination for a Walk

My characters used to perambulate with me everywhere. But along the years, I replaced them with intensive personal conversations with myself. These conversations are awesome too, but I miss my imaginary friends. I’m realizing I can reclaim them if I am disciplined enough to tone down the conversations. I’ve made it a goal this year that whenever I step foot outside (to get the mail or dump the compost bucket in the garden or go for my daily walk), I’m to skip the head-talk and instead try to just see the world around me through the eyes of my characters. The process is hardly as effortless or accessible as it used to be, but already I can feel it starting to flicker back to life around the edges of my vision.

3. Make Time Every Day to Fill Your Well

Finally, I’d be remiss not to include this third rule, which, really, is the first rule. This is the rule I’ve been working on for the past year—refilling my well.

Art, creativity, and inspiration are not talents we can muscle into submission and productivity. They must be nurtured in a holistic way. We cannot maintain a high level of creativity without committing to what I call “whole-life art.” As Anton Chekhov wisely said:

If you want to work on your art, work on your life.

The shorthand for this rule is simply “eat your veggies.” Or as Jordan Peterson put it, in a way that has stuck with me viscerally:

….treat yourself as if you were someone you are responsible for helping.

To whatever degree you are stressed, unhealthy, or unhappy, it will become that much harder to foster a nurturing space for your creativity. In many ways, I feel I did hardly anything creative this last year (other than half an outline), but what I was really focusing on was re-filling my sadly depleted well.

  • Don’t Put Junk in Your Body

So, yeah, eat your veggies. Your mind is a part of your body. If your body isn’t healthy, neither is your mind. Eat real food. Ditch the junk (you know what it is). And don’t think that “junk” refers just to food. I guarantee dumb YouTube videos and political rants that just make you mad aren’t helping you be more creative.

  • Read

Fill up your noggin. Pack it full of nutritious info and strong stories that make you grow. Ingest glorious, beautiful, archetypal images. Read fiction, read non-fiction, read writing guides, read books about how awesome it is to be a writer. This will totally make you want to write more.

  • Rest

As much as possible, stick to a regular sleep schedule. Maintaining a regular circadian rhythm, which is crucial to sustaining daily energy, is helped by making sure you see the sun at the same time every morning. Ain’t nobody got time to be tired.

  • Exercise

We all have basic physical needs, and we all have specific physical needs. Both need to be tended to. For me, making sure I get in a daily walk (with my characters, of course) has always been important. I started Yoga With Adriene last summer, and making it a daily practice has been transformative to my life, not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually. I can’t recommend it enough. Whatever exercise regimen you choose, stick with it. Repeat after me: my mind is a part of my body.

***

I am extremely optimistic about what lies in store for me creatively in this coming year. I am also (trying to be) surrendered to whatever may come—and I’m learning that is the essence of a creative life.

Whether my proposed three “rules” for nurturing my writing inspiration work throughout the year remains to be seen, but I trust they will at the very least serve their purpose in helping me extend my own education and understanding of what it means to live a creative life.

Whether you too follow these “rules” this year or not, I wish you all the best with your own artist’s journey!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How will you seek writing inspiration in your life this year? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Olga Oliver says

    K.M. your post explaining how the Tension Point works between Order and Chaos has cleared questions I’ve experienced with a funny little story having to do with horses. At the time the little horse story began I was very busy, no time for something new. However, the little story idea became electrified overnight as if the heavens had stopped at my address and dumped two white horses in my head. It simply took over, pushing everything on my to-do list aside. I mentioned the idea to friends getting questioning glances. Shocking me, my wheelchair-bound 85-year old sister Nita at first asked if I was feeling okay when I mentioned the white-horse story. A few days later she called, adding ideas to my story. Antsy and nervous . . . I so wanted to get into this horse story that I began wondering about myself. What was happening to me?

    Thank you K.M. for this delightful, meaningful post. It helps explain my venture into the white-horse story. Experiencing this creative magic exploding in forms of Chaos has calmed down and now awaits in Order-ly fashion on my to-do list, but every time I think about it, a rare petite tingle flutters through my chest.

    Olga

  2. I needed this. Thank you

  3. Melody Powers says

    I don’t know if you’ll even get to see this message from me, since I’m reading your post 6 days after you sent it. I’ve been busy helping a friend with her book. But in response to 1/13/20 I just have to say it was exactly what I needed to read. It’s very informative and inspiring and right on the mark with me right now. My creativity has dwindled the past couple months and I need to refill my well too.

    I don’t have anyone to advise me if my stories are any good. I have sent a query letter to a publisher in December but I haven’t heard back from them yet. Wish me luck!

    I love you for helping those of us who are struggling to become writers even when you are hurting yourself. You are an amazing person!

    Your Friend,

    Melody

  4. “The writing doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s just a sandbox to play in.” What a wonderful reminder. Reading this post also reminded me of first grade when my teacher wrote on my first report card that I spend too much time daydreaming. I realize now how guilty I feel when I’m not doing something physical such as typing, writing in a notebook, turning pages, etc. Just sitting around thinking is an activity I have difficulty defending as work. Thanks for this very necessary post. Even though I “know” the importance of creative playing and nurturing one’s inspiration, I’ve kept myself blocked. Time for the wrecking ball.

  5. Thanks for this post, Katie! I think a lot of my blocks have come down to not taking care of myself in these ways. I haven’t been reading, exercising, or eating as well as I should, and I also haven’t been using my free time in ways that actually make me feel “alive.” I’m slowly starting to turn that around, and I’m already seeing a difference in my energy levels and my mood. I’m doing less snapping at my kids and more trying to see the world through their little eyes, which is so helpful when I feel like I’m at the end of my rope. And, wouldn’t you know it, I’m becoming more interested in my dormant writing projects. Rather than the YouTube political rants you mentioned. 😉

Trackbacks

  1. […] https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/find-writing-inspiration/ “Writing inspiration—so easy to take for granted when we have it, so hard to rekindle once […]

  2. […] a new sense of inspiration and muchness that I can only hope will stay with me past January. (https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/find-writing-inspiration/) I, like her, was a child with an insatiable imagination. But unlike her, I don’t feel mine has […]

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