Last February, I contracted a severe case of creative block. Inspiration seemed to pack its bags and depart for an unknown region. Everything I wrote sounded wrong, and artistic feats became a struggle. I couldn’t craft a poem, paint a canvas, or sketch a character! I’d never experienced such a widespread form of mental paralysis before.
Thankfully, I recovered a month later, but my writing still felt strained. My enthusiasm had lessened. When this continued into the summer, I wondered if inspiration would ever return. How could I be productive without it?
I needed to resolve the issue, so I stuffed my stubbornness into a suitcase and set off to locate inspiration. But that quest proved more difficult than I expected. Inspiration is a master at hiding, and a writer has to know where to look to be able to retrieve it.
1. Identify Why Inspiration Left
When I began rewriting the second book in my time travel series, all the loose details and plot holes boggled my mind. I pushed on, but the problems kept haunting me until I was forced to set the story aside. I started a new project, which didn’t help as much as I’d hoped. Inspiration had slammed the door in my face, and I needed to figure out what I’d done to make it flee.
Did I doubt my abilities? Had I buried myself in work? Were my dreams overambitious? When inspiration leaves, our mindset tends to be at fault. I was focused on my flaws and goals rather than enjoying the writing process.
If you’ve scared inspiration away, examine your weaknesses as a writer and as a person. Humans can be dense and cantankerous, and inspiration, though arguably fickle, won’t function if you’re being uncooperative. Are you prone to depression? Do you get stressed easily? Are you overconfident?
Once you’ve pinpointed why inspiration hightailed it, ask yourself how you can repair your broken relationship with your imagination. Goals had always motivated me before, but now they were weighing me down, so I eliminated all the unnecessary ones and kept only the most essential. Unmet goals aren’t the end of the world.
If doubt is infecting you, dwell on your strengths and accomplishments. If you’re overworked, spend time relaxing. If over-ambitiousness is plaguing you, evaluate your progress realistically and remember that fame shouldn’t be your highest goal.
2. Revisit All the Places that Invite Inspiration
Even after you’ve adjusted your attitude, sometimes inspiration doesn’t reappear (as in my case). That means you need to resume your search. Where do you feel most inspired? Maybe at your favorite coffee shop, a local hiking trail, or your own backyard. Hang out there for a few hours to see if inspiration shows up. Secondly, what activities give you inspiration? Reading an intriguing mystery novel? Watching your children dance and chase butterflies in the grass? Bicycling around the neighborhood? Try coaxing inspiration back with a beloved hobby.
Four-wheeling is one of my favorite pastimes, and new ideas often strike me as I’m racing across the terrain. Inclement weather confined me indoors during my bout of creative block. But a couple months ago I went riding and thought up twists to throw into my work-in-progress!
Listening to music triggers ideas occasionally too. Plus, it calms me and puts me in a good mood. If you do something soothing or enjoyable while writing or brainstorming, inspiration might be more apt to knock.
3. Change Your Pace
Maybe inspiration has peeked in by now. You sense its presence, and writing seems easier. However, it’s not fully through the doorway yet, so you need to nudge it.
As I mentioned in my first point, I stopped revising my time travel book shortly after inspiration vanished. This was a wise decision, but I didn’t want to be idle in the meantime. So I toyed with an idea I’d had for years. It was completely different from my usual genre: historical fiction instead of speculative, omniscient POV instead of first or third, and a series of short stories instead of a full-length novel. Furthermore, I’m ordinarily a hybrid plotter and pantser, but I went entirely pantser with this one. Though I can’t claim the stories were the best I’ve ever drafted, I learned new techniques, expanded my skills, and refreshed my creativity.
When inspiration deserts you, why not experiment with different methods? If you write at night, write during the day. If you write serious stories, write humorous ones. If you’re a pantser, switch to plotting. The result might be junk, but that doesn’t matter as long as the exercise rejuvenates you. You might even have so much fun that inspiration will leap into this exciting new story!
4. Forget about Inspiration and Keep Working
After trying all these tips and taking a break, you probably expect inspiration to burst in. So did I. But that didn’t happen, and I realized I’d hoodwinked myself into believing I needed inspiration so badly that I couldn’t live without it.
A couple months ago, I wrote an article for Story Embers called “How to Turn Your Message Upside Down to Give Your Story a Unique Perspective.” Writing it took double or triple the amount of time I normally spend, and when I finished, I felt like the quality was subpar. I submitted it anyway, expecting our editor-in-chief to either reject it or request several revisions. To my surprise, he only had one minor tweak.
Sometimes our writing isn’t as horrible as we assume. Even when we’ve lost inspiration, we can churn out a halfway decent story and edit it as well as if inspiration had been guiding us. After all, what is inspiration really? Isn’t it the people we love? The places we visit? The books we read? And those are still with us, aren’t they? What about ourselves? Doesn’t inspiration flow from our hearts? More inspiration may be surrounding you than you realize, and you can scrape it together to turn into gold.
Maybe you’re in a boat right now, stranded in the middle of a book with no ideas. For months, you’ve been screaming for help, and no one’s even bothered to toss you a lifesaver. If you wait much longer, you’ll starve and shrivel up in the sun. Don’t just sit there—grab the oars and start rowing! You may not find inspiration, but I guarantee you’ll find adventure.
And that’s what writing is all about.
Mariposa Aristeo is a writer of quirky characters and fantastical adventures filled with heart, humor, hope, and, very often, dinosaurs. If you can’t find her in one of her own imaginary worlds, try combing the pages of a great middle-grade fantasy novel.
At Story Embers, igniting (and sometimes imploding) ideas is her favorite pastime, so she often uses her creativity to make graphics for articles and writing quotes, as well as implement new strategies for SE’s social media channels. Explosions aside, she loves getting to know each and every writer here at SE by running the popular #embersgram hashtag on Instagram and responding to your questions and emails.
Besides being a co-owner of Story Embers, Mariposa is a member of ACFW, a children’s book illustrator, and the host of the IGTV series #middlegrademagicwithmari. You can check out her book recommendations (and shenanigans) on her Instagram page or her character sketches on her art account.