I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. You get a surge of inspiration to work on your manuscript, add another chapter to that smutty fan-fiction, or you’ve got an assignment glaring you in the face with the unkempt eyebrows of a looming deadline. You sit down, align your fingers with the keyboard and… nothing. Nada. Zilch. The words just won’t come or you’ve already found yourself so distracted that the flickering flame of muse is already sputtering out. For most writers in any capacity, this is a common and overwhelmingly frustrating occurrence, so much so that it can often kill any creative writing time before you even have a chance to start. And what fun is the feeling of creative failure?
One of the biggest hurdles of writing – be it a novel, an article or even forum roleplay – is just… well, writing. We get so wrapped up in the concept of writing that we forget how fun it is to let the words come freely, sentence by sentence, building a scene or describing a character or place.
This blog will offer a variety of tools for you to ease your writing sessions from painful and frustrating to muse-fueled and fun.
Make the Time
It sounds silly, but this is a critical step to take as a writer. It’s easy to get caught up in a hectic day while in the back of your mind you know you want or need to be writing. So, inevitably, it keeps getting pushed off to a later hour or you find yourself swallowed by other mounting responsibilities that squirm their way to the top of the priority list.
Time to take action with Time.
Set a time to do your writing and stick to it. That’s the kicker. Stick to it. Carve out part of your day dedicated only to sitting in front of computer or paper and direct your thinking to what is in front of you. The best part about this method is that it is 100% flexible. Whether you have 4 hours to dedicate to your writing or 15 minutes, it absolutely doesn’t matter. You’ll never write unless you write, so make what time you can in your daily schedule. If that schedule is predictable enough, pencil in your dedicated writing times for the next 7 days and make a point to stick to it.
Even if you’re the type of person to work well in chaos (hint: I’m definitely not.) it’s always best to set a sturdy foundation from which to build your writing session. Limit or eliminate any potential distractions you can: TV, phones, etc should all be off or set to silent so that you aren’t interrupted mid-thought or sentence, which can be a complete muse-killer. For those of you who write using a computer or laptop, even that in itself can be a distraction! Be sure to set those pesky email notification settings to silent and limit the number of windows or tabs you have open to help keep you focused on the task at hand.
For parents or those who are unable to avoid the chaos for whatever reason, headphones with your choice of music can be a great way to keep your mind on the words rather than the world around you.
When I write, I make every effort to only have a set number of tabs open which include a Thesaurus, a Name Generator Site (if you’re still in the character- or place-naming phase) and your writing document. That’s it.
Finally, avoid the sneaky social media monster who lurks in the dark recesses of our easily-distracted minds. I’ll have moments when I pause from my writing and suddenly my fingers have created a new tab and started typing in ‘Facebook’ before my mind has a chance to catch up and say “NO SIR-EE!”, but even that in itself can be a distraction. That’s where Google Chrome comes in handy. There is a magical Chrome plugin called StayFocused that you can use to block specific websites for a set period of time, thus giving you proverbial internet blinders and helping to keep your mind on your writing.
Set Your Workspace
Your writing environment is important, no matter where it might be. Whether you work best at a desk, stretched out on the couch or curled up in a cushy chair on your outdoor patio with a laptop, be sure to sanctify your workspace. Don’t let the word sanctify fool you: you don’t need to be tossing holy water at anything (hey, unless that works for you and your space!) but it’s critical that your writing space reflects a sense of positive creation and peace so that you enjoy using it.
Your workspace should be your happy place; a space you enjoy being in, and one that fuels your creativity. Load it with visuals or items that bring you joy! For example, I work at a wood desk on my laptop, with an assortment of notebooks stacked in the corner and a lit candle in the other for ambiance. But above all, make sure that our Workspace is free of debilitating distractions.
Pre-game with Inspiration
If I’ve got the time to do it, I find it seriously helpful and inspiring to “pre-game” with music, images, poems or videos that drive my muse for whatever writing project I am currently working on. For my fantasy-genre manuscript that is in the works, I have a Spotify playlist with over 100 songs on it that all play a role in different scenes and moods in my novel. Listening to these, even just driving down the road jamming to them in my car, always pumps me up to write!
There are other ways to gather and utilize inspiration too: Pinterest can be good for pinning items relative to your writing, or you can collect various images, gifs, poems and quotes over on Tumblr by creating a blog there (or a side-blog, if you already have a Tumblr account). For my roleplay characters, my most favorite ones each have their own Tumblr blogs so that I can quickly view them for a jolt of inspiration prior to writing a response post. If you’d like an example, here is one for my character Leandra.
Have a Plan
It’s worth it to have a small plan or outline in place when you tackle your writing. Whether I’m starting a new chapter or writing a response to someone on a roleplay forum, it helps to have some notes in front of my face about what direction I want my writing to take, phrases my character(s) might say, or snippets of emotion I want to be sure to include. These can be in direct response to the current scene or a plan for future ones.
You can make these plans as elaborate or simple as you’d like: if you prefer a loose structure that allows for a lot of organic growth between characters and scenes, a simple bullet list with 4-5 items might be the way to go. Or, if you like a steadfast direction with a firm plan in place, you can plot out all of the finer details of a scene (or even an entire chapter!) point by point, which can not only help you stay on target, but it also prevents you from scrambling to include various details you might not have already thought of.
Go for Quantity
This is especially critical if you are working on a first draft: go for quantity, with a lesser emphasis on quality. Your first draft is going to be rough, no matter how you spin it. There will be punctuation errors, grammar errors, sentence structures that make you go “buhhhhhhhh”. The important thing to remember is that you can’t edit what you don’t write. Get it down first and worry about the editing later, because otherwise you will end up in a vicious cycle of distraction if you are constantly removing yourself from the flow or scene to make non-critical edits in the moment.
The most eye-opening piece of advice I ever got from a creative writing professor was this: “You have to give yourself permission to write shit.” Because if you don’t, you’re left struggling to even finish what you start. As a perfectionist, that was – and sometimes still is – very difficult to overcome, but as time goes by I find myself allowing the words to come more freely when I let my fingers do the typing with minimal outside influence from my editing mind. Then, when I’m done, I give myself permission to re-read and make any needed edits or changes.
And, last but not least…
Be Patient with Yourself
So many people fall into the trap of creative self-deprecation, struggling to overcome their own expectations with their writing and comparing themselves too harshly to their peers. We are all writers, and at the end of the day we need to understand that writing is not something that comes easy to everyone. It takes time, dedication, hard work and perseverance, and those things just aren’t going to happen every time you sit down to write. Be gentle with yourself, and don’t compare your work to the work of others; each person has their own unique voice and style, and it’s completely okay to have your own. Pull inspiration and wisdom from other writers, yes, but don’t lose your own style in the process.
Now get out there and write! What are you writing about lately? I’d love to follow you on your writing journey!