Writing Inspiration: Sometimes You Just Have to Wait

Hourglass_hour_glass_263769_lYou've all heard the party line about getting ideas for writing (and I say it myself, often): you can't sit around and wait for inspiration to strike you, you've got to make it happen by sitting down and writing.

It's good advice because it's true advice.

Except for when it's not.

Last week when I was sick I spent a lot of time prone on the couch.  The first couple of days I lay there in what I'm certain was an unattractive manner, considering I hadn't had a shower in a couple of days and…. never mind, I'll spare you the details.  The second couple of days I read (by then I was clean of body, too).   Voraciously.  And somewhere along the line I suddenly started getting ideas for my novel.  The very same novel that had been stalled at the start of chapter three, because I couldn't decide: funeral scene or scene in high-rise office?

I knew I was feeling better when I leapt from the couch, searching for paper and pen.  And thus I have notes for chapter three scrawled on a pad of paper decorated with holly berries, a bonus item the boys of the St. Joseph Lakota school sent me in hopes I'd donate to their cause (along with a dream catcher and a thick stack of address labels).

Had I not gotten sick, I would have diligently forced the issue of chapter three.  I would have thought.  And thought some more.  And walked.  And done free writing assignments.  And taken notes. I would have goosed the muse until the poor muse was so overwhelmed and exhausted he would have yelled, "Stop! Here's an idea already!"

But that didn't happen this time.  Instead, I lolled about and the ideas came.  So I'm thinking my new modus operandi is to just lie on the couch all the time.  Kidding!  Sort of.  Because I believe what happened last week was that my brain finally got quiet enough for me to listen.  The week previous had been full of holiday stuff, and there was much important business and scurrying around and not a lot of quiet.  So I'm putting quiet, just plain quiet, at the top of my list for idea gathering and getting unstuck.

For the record, here are my other top ways to get unstuck:

  • Walk
  • Repetitive motion activity (knitting, weeding, sewing, lawn mowing)
  • Free writing
  • Reading (especially a book on writing craft)
  • Creative projects (doodling, painting, collage, etc.)

The great thing about writing is that things always change.  What worked once may not work again.  What's never worked before suddenly works like a charm.  The way you wrote your first novel, in a white heat with words flowing so fast you can barely keep up, seems like a distant memory as you plod through your second novel, word by painful word.

And this, my friends, is what makes writing the most fascinating profession in the world.

How do you get unstuck?

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**Photo by paav-o.

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12 Comments on "Writing Inspiration: Sometimes You Just Have to Wait"

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J E Fritz
Guest

Actually, I’ve been feeling rather stuck lately myself. Reading usually helps, but that big block is still there. I’ll have to try some of the other “unstickers”.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

J.E., Yes, do. And be sure to remind yourself that “this, too, shall pass.” Because I do know it will. Thanks for stopping by.

Jessica Baverstock
Guest

It’s interesting you mention this. I’ve just been reading the first chapter of The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun (a brilliant book which I’ll start blogging about very soon).

In there he was talking about Archimedes’ eureka moment. It wasn’t a random epiphany through luck. It was brought about because he spent a lot of time working on the problem, and then…he took a bath.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Jessica, I’m really interested in that book, thanks to you (was just reading about it on your blog). I worked on a book project for a local naturopath last fall and in it we discussed hydrotherapy, or the use of water to heal. Apparently, water can be used to stimulate creativity, too. I’m going to add taking a bath to the list!

Sue Mitchell
Guest

Far and away my most reliable unsticker is taking a walk. I noticed it’s first on your list (after lying around, LOL). It also falls in the category of a repetitive motion activity, but I think being outside is also part of the magic. After every walk, I spend about 10 minutes downloading thoughts into my idea journal.

Patrick Ross
Guest

Hi Charlotte, this post comes at a good time for me, as I am now sick. I managed to stay healthy throughout my MFA residency but clearly brought something back with me and I’m wiped. I hope I get some inspiration; I did dream a bit last night about a writing project that I’m working on for my first packet, but I think I’ll need to wait until I’m not feverish to know if it was actually a good inspiration!

J.D.
Guest
J.D.

Charlotte, I received my book. What a great prize! I think everyone enjoyed the contests. The book comes to me a good time. I need a little creative jolt and I think I’ll find it in The Artist’s Way. I love your blog.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

I feel the same way, Sue. I think it also has something to do with the movement of walking (which is good reason for me to get up off the couch–my exercise went by the wayside during the bout of flu). That’s a great idea to walk and come directly home and write in your idea journal.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

J.D., I’m so glad you got the book and are enjoying it! I had so much fun with those Christmas giveaways that I’m already pondering doing something for Valentine’s Day, so stay tuned! And thanks for loving my blog, I love having you as a reader.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Oh, Patrick, I’m so sorry to hear you are sick. Rest is the key, I’m telling you. Even when you think you’re feeling better, make yourself rest. The good news is that I actually feel better than I did before I got sick! Sending good thoughts your way.

Carole Jane Treggett
Guest
Hi Charlotte, I have discovered over the past few months as I have begun to exercise somewhat regularly (workout x 3 per week) that a whole slew of creative ideas come flying at me fast and furious as I’m pedaling like mad on my recumbent bike. All my life when I travel by car on longer trips, my mind wanders and tons of great, useful ideas come to me. I’ve always been prone to motion sickness so I try and jot down all my ideas in my notebook that I keep in my purse (um, that would be when I’m… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Carole Jane, Travel! I forgot about travel! Something about the motion of a car or a plane sets my mind going….I’ve never quite been able to use a voice-recorder, either, though I bet those cows thought you were really something!

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