A writer’s guide to inspiration


01 July 2020
Writing and inspiration go hand in hand – here are some thoughts on how to channel it as Writing Magazine launches Inspiration Month

What does the word ‘inspiration’ suggest to you? It’s definitely a vital part of the writing process, and near the top of most writer’s wishlists – because even if ‘major publishing deal’ is right at the top, our writing is going nowhere unless we’ve been inspired to create it. And then inspired to keep on writing it, and inspired again to polish it and hone it so that it’s ready to present to readers.

Here at Writing Magazine we believe that inspiration takes many forms, which is why for the next month we’ll be drilling down into different ways of prompting inspiration, looking at how different writers discover inspiration and above all, helping you to find inspiration to create new works and continue crafting works in progress.

Inspiration and ideas are closely linked. Ideas are the first thing you need if you’re going to write. If you’re a writer, ideas are everywhere. You can pluck fantastic ideas from anywhere, as long as you’re tuned in to looking for them. It’s what you do with them that counts. That’s where inspiration comes in, at this part of the process.

The first kind of inspiration we tend to associate with writing is the lightbulb moment that means we’ve made some kind of creative breakthrough. These moments can be provoked in different ways – you might be inspired by something you’ve read, or seen, or a course you’ve been on, or an experience you’ve had, or something that someone has said. And just as if you’ve been lit up in the creative part of your brain, you’ve had that wonderful ‘Aha!’ response that signals something new and exciting coming through.

But we can’t count on the first surge of energy. It’s like starting a fire. You need a spark to light it, and then there’s a bright flare. But if you haven’t built your fire carefully, and you don’t keep feeding it, it will burn out. You need to back up the initial flash of inspiration and sustain it with a slow-burn feed of inspirational energy – and you can train yourself to look for it, and access it to feed your writing.

Inspiration is all around – it’s not limited to having that first spark, and with practice, you can learn to provoke lightbulb moments of varying degrees of intensity. Although inspiration can, and often does, strike out of nowhere, this is far from the only kind of inspiration a writer needs. It’s the most exciting kind, because that’s the kind of inspiration that can give birth to a new idea for a project, but the downside is that it can be random, and unpredictable. If you rely too much on this kind of out-of-the-blue inspiration, you risk feeling blocked if and when it doesn’t happen.

Bear in mind that inspiration can come in very practical forms. It doesn’t have to be airy-fairy. There are a lot of writers who are inspired, on a regular basis, by having to file copy to a deadline, or writing to produce a piece tailored for a competition or call for submission, or draft a story on a certain theme, or to write because that’s their source of income. Just because something is rooted in real-world opportunities doesn’t make it any less inspiring – in fact, it can be even more inspirational because it offers a genuine hope of success.

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Perhaps the trick with inspiration is to seek it out. If you know it’s out there, you just have to find it, and get in the habit of doing so. Ask yourself what inspires you. It will be different for everyone. For some writers, it might be a walk in nature; for others, an inspirational quote from another writer might be the spur to spark something new. A workshop or course can be immensely inspiring, or a retreat – anything which takes you away from your everyday experience and offers you the chance to see things in a new way. You don’t have to go far to do this, either – just by varying your daily walk you might see something in a new way, or discover something that inspires you. A lot of people are inspired by the story of someone else’s success –it’s one of the reasons that WM’s Subscriber Spotlight section, where writers showcase their publishing successes, is so popular. Writers see the path to publication stories and think – quite rightly – ‘that could be me.’ And on a regular basis, it is!

Talking to other writers is inspiring too – finding what works for them will help you to look at what works for you, too. It may be that someone else’s tips give you an idea of your own, or prompt you to take a fresh look at something that’s bothering you. The more you keep an open mind, the more you’ll find inspiration coming to you.

Routine can be inspiring too, as long as it’s a routine that offers you something that will enhance your life, rather than a daily grind. Checking in to your daily writing practice is an inspiration in itself – you have made yourself the space to write and it’s time to show up and produce words. Perhaps your writing space is an actual place – a desk, table, shed even - where you can surround yourself with bits and pieces that inspire you. Perhaps your writing space is a mental one, and it’s a question of turning up to your laptop or notebook, wherever you are, and writing. Giving yourself permission to write, and calling yourself a writer, are profoundly inspiring.

Inspiration doesn’t have to come from outside. You can set yourself inspirational targets. Maybe you’re inspired by the idea of holding your first book in your hands. Or seeing your novel on the bestseller charts. Or seeing your byline next to an article you’ve written in a magazine. Or the thought of yourself giving a talk to a writing group about your book. Let these ideas inspire you to finish that first draft, write that article, send off that email. The dream of success can spur you on to take the steps you need to make it happen.

There is a link, too, between inspiration and motivation. Once the first flash of inspiration has worn off, you need to be inspired to keep motivated. This is a different kind of inspiration from that initial spark. At this point, look for inspiration in different ways. It may well be that the ambition to get to the finishing line and complete your project will fuel you. But along the way, bear in mind that after your big flash – a massive idea, for a new story, poem, novel, topic – your writing inspiration may come in tiny sparkles – the perfect word, the telling details, the wonderful line of dialogue. And when you get a line right, or a paragraph, or a chapter, it will inspire you to write the next, and the next, and the next.

Like we said, if you’re a writer, inspiration is everywhere. You’ve had a great idea. Be inspired to act on it. Get writing!


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