Though inspiration can get you writing, it’s unlikely to keep you writing. Find your flow on the page with this tangible creativity-boosting approach.
There is always a story to tell. Whether it’s in the form of a novel, a professional newsletter, a blog, a poem, or a personal journal, many folks feel inspired at some point in their life to commit their story (or stories!) to paper. But while inspiration can get you writing, it’s unlikely to keep you writing. One story that I hear quite often from clients is that inspiration keeps them writing for a few days, a week, maybe even a month, but that the inspiration to tell their story does not outlast the inevitable moment when the writing gets hard.
At its best, writing is fun and satisfying. At its worst…well, it can feel a bit demoralizing when the words do not arrive on paper as fully formed and brilliant as they feel inside one’s head. And, unfortunately, when we’re already balancing many demands on our attention, it can be all too easy to turn our backs on our writing. “Well,” we might say, “I gave it a try, but I’m clearly just not cut out to be a writer.”
Because we generally see “good” writing that has already been published in some form or another, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that very, very few people can just sit down and craft elegant writing on the first go. The long, sometimes arduous revision and editing processes that have gone into what we read are completely invisible. Struggle is hidden behind writing that—at its best—feels effortless to read. Surrounded by the end result—writing of publishable quality—it can be difficult to feel that our writing is up to snuff.
Like any craft or skillset, writing requires practice. Sure. Ok. Obvious! But let’s break that down a bit by exploring what it means to “practice.” There are two objectives being met every time you show up for any kind of practice. The first is generally what we focus on: practice helps you develop skills. Whether it’s sports drills, piano scales, or writing exercises, the goal of practicing is for you to develop the skills that will serve you when it’s time to play a game, perform in a concert, or sit down to craft the story you have been itching to tell.
The other objective being met every time you show up for a practice is just as important, but we don’t talk about it as much. It’s the act of showing up itself. It’s the mental process of committing to a practice time and deciding each time to show up and do the work. Some days you might find your practice invigorating and inspiring. You’re “on.” You sail down the court, you play like a pro, your writing rivals Shakespeare. But you know that there will be tough days. When you have two left feet, you feel tone-deaf, or you want to burn every word you’ve written. But you show up anyways. That’s why it’s called “practice,” not just “play time.” By committing to a practice, you’re committing your time to the process of skill-building. And it’s by showing up consistently to do the work that you learn to fight through the crappy days, to recognize the gains you’ve made, and to find your flow within the familiar movements.
Establish a writing practice. Committing to a writing practice is the best way to help you weather moments of self-doubt, to bolster you when the writing feels hard, and to ensure that you give yourself the opportunity to tell the story that inspired you in the first place.
Set aside time to write, whether it’s an hour every day or just 15 minutes three times per week. Choose an amount of time that is doable and sustainable for you. And commit to it. This is your writing time.
And prepare. This is the key to a successful writing practice. Set your intention toward writing what you want. But be prepared to write something else entirely. Start maintaining a list of topics that interest you. Also, find a list of standard writing prompts (Google will turn up thousands). I recommend using a tiered approach to your practice. Start with what you want to write. Drawing a blank? Feeling uninspired? If you can’t push through it, switch gears to write about something else that interests you. Still can’t find the words? Grab a standard writing prompt (“describe the last meal you ate”). Spend your writing time writing something, no matter what.
The more you write, no matter what the topic, the more you build up your writing skills and your capacity to write through the tough moments. By showing up to your practice committed to putting something on paper, you are training your brain to think about writing as a process.
When you establish a writing practice, you are providing yourself with the time and the opportunity to have those deeply satisfying days when your story just flows. And, as with any consistent practice, those days will come more and more frequently the longer you stick with it.
Elena K. Abbott, PhD
Professional Editor and Writing Coach
At Ink Blotter Manuscript Services, Dr. Elena K. Abbott is dedicated to good writing and clear communication. She specializes in joining you at any stage of your writing project to ensure that you produce your best possible work. When you write, write with confidence.