Saturday, September 9, 2023

How to Find Inspiration

One of the things I used to most fear when I was a young writer was running out of ideas or the motivation to work on stories. As it turns out, the ideas are the easy part. Finding inspiration, especially in a season of dryness or when the story just refuses to come, can be far harder. 

But even that can be managed. Here are some of my favorite tricks for getting the inspiration flowing again and a story back on track. 

Assess the Situation

One of the most crucial things you can do is determine the problem. If you’re tired or hungry or need a break, then working harder isn’t going to help you. If you’re dealing with burnout or emotional exhaustion, you need to address that as best you can.
Even if you are unable to fix all the situations that are causing the problems, doing something to address your actual physical or mental needs can help you get into a space where you can then continue the story. Just remember to address those needs sooner rather than later. 

Talk with a Friend

If you have author friends or a group with a safe space to chat, then talking about the story can help you spot the potential issues that could be holding you up or get you excited about the story once more. Especially if they are people who know the story. Sometimes we need a cheer session or others to believe in us or just an extra pair of eyes.  
(If you know what the actual issue or your needs with it are, do be sure to let the others know too. Especially if what you need is general excitement for the story rather than criticism.) 

Thought Release

This one helps me so much I do it every morning, even when the inspiration is flowing well. But when I am having a tough time, I will take a few extra minutes and complete it again just to clear my mind.
The basic premise is simple: sit and write whatever is in your mind for 10 – 15 minutes. And I mean whatever.
I get snippets of stories, bits of poems, tasks that need to be done, and even the occasional research note. But as I put them to paper, the act calms my mind and makes it easier for me to see what actually needs to be done. And oftentimes, that takes some stress and pressure away and makes it easier for me to see what needs to be done on my current story. 

Play a Game

Personally, I love video and phone games when it comes to seeking out inspiration. If you get a good story game, your mind will start putting together that story and you may find that that excitement spills over into your own and makes it easier for you get back in your own flow.
Do handle this with care if you’re on a tight deadline as it could mean that you wind up using up all your time. 
If you only have a short amount of time, try a smaller puzzle based one like Candy Crush or Tetris. A lot of times, your mind will work on the problem with the story as you are focusing on something else, and Tetris has been shown to help restructure the brain in such a way that it can even help reduce the impacts of trauma and intrusive thoughts. 

Set a Timer

I hate this tactic. But it works. 
Sit with your writing tools and a timer for 20 minutes. Set the timer. Switch your phone and Internet off. Now look at the page. Whatever you do, you have two options: write or stare. 
Technically, you can think about the story, of course. 
But nothing else. 
Eventually the words come. 
I can’t explain why, but it feels physically painful to do nothing and keep intentionally returning my focus to the project at hand rather than letting myself get distracted by a thousand other things. And somehow, that agonizing space of focus eventually leads to more words coming. Maybe not good words. But words that can be edited and finessed. 
The one thing I’ll add is that even though it works, I hate this tactic so much I avoid it if I can. It also wears me out faster. But if I’m on a deadline for a project I just can’t complete, then this is the one I pull out. And sometimes even the threat of it is enough to make my mind realize it can continue. 
But these are just a handful of possibilities. If you find these don’t work for you, keep experimenting. Something will work eventually. All seasons end, including seasons of dry inspiration and difficult stories. 
What about you? Do you have any tricks that work for you when it comes to finding inspiration?

Jessica M. Butler is a USA Today bestselling romantic fantasy author who never outgrew her love for telling stories and playing in imaginary worlds. She lives with her husband and law partner, James Fry, in rural Indiana where they are quite happy with their two cats and all of the wildlife and trees.