The key to overcoming the obstacles that stop you writing a book, be it fiction or non-fiction, is to get some inspiration for authors, in particular learn to get inspired and stay inspired. But if inspiration is simply not there or it’s shaky, then getting and staying inspired is not so easy to do.
People tell me that one of my special skills is being able to inspire people, and I’m someone who never has writer’s block, not once since I started writing solidly in 2007. I’m always inspired with something; it’s my ability to bring things to fruition that is hardest for me. So do I have some tips? I do.
General pointers on Inspiration for Authors:
- Inspiration does not come in a mind that is trying to be inspired. If you’re desperate to get inspiration, it probably won’t come. Inspiration comes to a relaxed mind.
- Meditation will open your mind up to an uncluttered space where anything can pop up, but don’t go for meditation that makes your mind dull and sleepy, go for a form of meditation that makes you feel clear.
- Inspiration usually comes to me when I’m doing something relaxing, like walking or sitting looking at a lovely view.
- If you’re stuck, take a break. Giving up can be helpful—let everything go and in the space you’ve opened up something new can arise.
If you have no idea at all about what you want to write:
- Read books you like, not with the intention to copy anything and not with the idea of trying to find an idea, just to find the flavour of books you enjoy. You may finish a great book, and the next morning you wake up and the idea for your story is in your mind;
- Listen to music, close your eyes and allow images to come into your mind of a world that would suit the music, then populate that world with characters;
- Go to the theatre or the movies and imagine what a book on the same themes might look like;
- Sit in a café; watch people on the street and listen to people talking. Look at their faces, their clothes and try to work out a back story for them;
- Ask yourself why you want to write something and allow that purpose to stimulate your mind into action;
- Visit an art gallery or photography gallery and look at portraits or pictures of people—or find images of people online. Find a picture you like and come up with names and backgrounds for the people in the picture. Ask yourself what aims the main character has and who or what would make realising their aim difficult. If you have those three things, a protagonist, an aim and an antagonist, you have the basis for a story.
You have an idea but you just can’t get inspired to either start or keep at it:
- Find music that suits the world and the characters. Select music for specific scenes. Listen to the music, then once you’re in the mood, write.
- Imagine your characters and have a chat with them. Ask them about themselves and get to know them. Ask what their hopes and fears are, and ask them to tell you their story.
- Do an image search for images that look like the setting of your story and practice writing descriptions of the settings.
- Imagine that you are in the story at whatever point you’ve got to; you are the character, and the events are happening to you. Ask yourself how you feel and what you would do next.
- Simplify your life. If you’re too busy or too tired, you’ll make it harder to find the inspiration to write.
- Try making a set time to write, a time when you’re fresh and write regardless of how you feel. Sometimes getting started can get the inspiration going.
- Ask yourself why you want to write this story. Is your reason for wanting to write it a strong one? If it is, then focus on that and allow that reason to get you going. If it’s not a very strong reason to want to write this story, then see if you can find one. If you can’t find that, then maybe this idea is not strong enough and you should set this idea aside for a bit and allow other ideas to come up.
- Ask yourself if there are other reasons why you can’t get started, something else that is blocking your inspiration. Review the What’s Stopping You Writing that Novel post and follow any suggestions there that relate to you.
- Sometimes we can’t find the inspiration because we don’t have the confidence that we have the skills needed to write well, in this case studying the craft of writing can help. There are lots of options for ways to study—books, blog posts, workshops, short and long courses.
When it gets hard for authors to stay inspired
Anyone who writes with the aim of getting published knows (or will soon learn) how much time and effort it takes to get a manuscript up to publishable standard. Every writer goes through many challenges and trials as they work on a book. Criticism and rejection are things we face many times during the journey, and if you really want to get published, you need to take criticism as a reason to improve your work, not as a reason to give up. You have to find out what’s wrong with your book and fix it, and that often means reaching out to someone to help you.
Every book can be made better, even those in print, so criticism doesn’t mean your book is bad; it just means that it can be better. My first novel took 5 years, writing several hours a day, from first draft to publication, during which time I did 7 complete rewrites and 27 edits.
How did I stick with it through all that? Didn’t I get sick of it?
- It was satisfying to make my manuscript better: I used to not look at it for long periods of time, anywhere from 1 to 6 months, and during that time I did a lot of reading of quality books. It was easier to be objective after a break and in comparison to other books, and after doing that I saw quite clearly that it needed to be improved. At the beginning I wasn’t sure how, but further study usually gave me an angle to take, and I found myself excited at the prospect of making it better. Each time I revised the book I could see it was getting more and more like the book I’d imagined it could be.
- I was learning all the time: I’d put so much effort into the book already that I figured that if I didn’t make it even better all that work would be wasted. Okay, not really wasted, but I thought I might as well keep learning and make it the best it could possibly be.
- I believed the book was worth the effort: If you believe in the value of your book you will stick at it. Maybe it’s a story that needs to be told because it will raise awareness of an issue, or maybe you have something important that you want to express in your story, or maybe you just have a strong sense that the characters want their story told and you are their chosen scribe, or maybe you just know in your guts that it’s a great story, or perhaps you know people will find it really uplifting or maybe writing a book is just something you’ve always wanted to do.
If you’re not sure whether it’s worth the effort or not, then ask yourself why you began writing it in the first place. Is that inspiration strong enough for you to keep going or has it faded and become not so important to you now? Can you reawaken it? Has the story remained true to the original inspiration or have you gone off somewhere and lost the driving force? If you’ve gone off somewhere, perhaps it’s time to pull it back so you don’t lose the main point.
If you’ve lost inspiration revisit what got you started in the first place. The thing that kept me going more than anything was knowing that Lethal Inheritance and its sequels dealt with something important – how to work with our negative emotions.
- I believed in my ability to make it better: I figured I should be able to learn how to write a good book, and I always managed to get help when I needed it. When I gave my first novel to my agent after editing it again in accordance with her suggestions, I really thought I couldn’t do any better, but after a break and some further study, I discovered that I could.
- I knew the down times would pass: Sometimes I felt that I would never be able to write well enough to achieve the kind of quality I wanted, and I’d feel depressed about the project for a while. That’s natural, but I always knew that this was just a feeling and like all feelings it would pass. I knew that eventually I would feel more hopeful.
- Giving up is most refreshing: Every now and then I gave up. I decided it was all too hard and that it was time to stop. Then with great relief I would close my document and declare that I was finished with it for good. A few days or weeks later, however, I’d find myself back on the computer typing away. The break refreshed me, and that allowed new inspiration to enter.
How do you keep inspired when the going gets tough?
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You’ll also find my book on writing, The Elements of Active Prose: WritingTips to Make Your Prose Shine, very helpful.
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paf102013Peter Fortunato says
Tahlia, thanks for this thought provoking post! I’m currently stewing about a longish two part novel—adult literary fiction—which took me many years and many rewrites to complete. For about a year and a half I’ve been contacting agents in the USA, sending samples when asked, being either ignored or kindly rejected: “Someone will want to be your advocate for this book.” Writer friends who’ve read it have liked it, but all have their own suggestions about why I can’t find an agent (typically from “it’s so long,” to “it sounds like a memoir, not a novel,”). I’m simply too tired now to keep fanning the flames of my own enthusiasm or that of prospective agents; I suppose I am doing what you yourself suggest in your post, and have put it aside, rather than abandoning the project. When I look at the novel occasionally, I think, “Hell, I like it as it is!” but I do wonder if I could ever break it down and reassemble it differently. Have you ever had a similar experience with a ms of yours, close to your heart? Did you revamp it successfully for publication? Publish it yourself?
Tahlia Newland says
I have two completed books I never published because feedback from betga readers made me realise that there were just too many issues with them. One wasn’t that close to my heart, so I fugured the work required wasn’t worth it. One was. I even had a cover for it, but then I realised that I was muddled about what I was saying and so the intention wasn’t clear, and because of that my beta readers misunderstood things. I realised that it needed a lot more clarity around my ideas and possibly a complete rewrite. My life experience at present is giving me experiences that will help if I ever do rewrite it, but it would be a very different book, so … I don’t know if I will ever do that.
My YA series I did self-publish, because it was (and still is) dear to my heart, and later they were picked up by an American publisher. As I had an agent (she just didn’t get a big publisher for me, and she didn’t work with small ones) I figured it was good enough to publish, and reviews and awards indicate that it was.
In your situation I would get a professional opinion. Because even after 10 beta readers of my first book, and they all had nothing but praise for it, despite me saying I wanted the hard truth, my agent made me edit it again, and I also edited it another time after I parted ways with the agent. The final edit I did after I’d studied with a line editor and learned how to turn ordinary prose into excellent prose. My point being that it may be good, but maybe it can still be better, and only a professional editor will be able to tell you that. Once you’ve worked with an editor, then maybe the book will get picked up by an agent or publisher and if not, then you can self-publish it with the confidence that it is good enough to publish. What you don’t want to do is self-publish without being sure that it is a professional product.
So yes, you could break it down and reassemble it, but maybe that isn’t what’s required, maybe it’s something at the line editing level that is needed, or a shift from telling to showing. There are many things other than the actual story that could be the problem. To be absolutely truthful here, I think you should book a manuscript appraisal and let me take a look at it. My appraisals are not expensive and afterwards you will be much clearer on how to proceed. Whatever you do then, you won’t be wondering if you’re doing the right thing or not.
The other thing to be aware of is that it may simply not be a particularly commercial story. It might be really good, but if agents don’t think they can sell it, they won’t want it. And they only want things they can sell to huge readerships, so if your book would only appeal to a niche market, then they will never want it, no matter how brilliant it is. Anyway, I can certainly help you. Take a look at my editing services page and fill in the form there if you decide you want me to do a manuscript appraisal on it.
paf102013Peter Fortunato says
Thanks for your caring, lengthy reply. I will consider carefully your suggestions.