Should You Wait for Writing Inspiration, or Stick to a Routine?

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Do you wait for inspiration to strike before you write, or sit down on a regular basis and write regardless of how you feel?

It’s great to feel inspired — to be almost obsessed with your writing, eager to get words down as quickly as possible. When you’re really in the writing zone, you might find yourself losing track of time and being highly productive for hours.

But let’s be honest, for most of us, this isn’t a daily or even a weekly reality. Most of the time, we do want to write … but we somehow struggle to get on with it.

If you only ever write when you’re inspired, you probably won’t produce much. That’s fine if you’re happy writing an occasional poem or short story, but if you’re working on a blog, a novel, or an entire writing career, you’ve got to make writing more of a routine.

And yet, sitting down and forcing out 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 words a day could just be a recipe for hating both the act of writing and what you’ve written.

Here’s how to get the best of both worlds.

Step #1: Schedule regular writing sessions

To keep up your momentum, you need to write regularly. That doesn’t necessarily mean writing daily.

Some writers thrive while working on their book, say, for 20 minutes per day, without fail. Others do much better with two hour-long sessions each week.

Find a writing rhythm that works for you — not your best friend, your creative writing tutor, or that author you follow on Twitter. Experiment with short daily sessions one week and longer twice-week sessions the next. Which do you prefer?

You may even find your rhythm shifts over time, especially if other aspects of your life change, so don’t be afraid to experiment again occasionally.

Step #2: Make your environment work for you

Something that writers often don’t realize about inspiration is it generally doesn’t just appear out of the blue.

You might always feel inspired after a long walk, or a relaxing bath, or when you listen to a particular piece of music.

As much as possible, make your writing environment work in your favor. When you sit down to write, you want to feel like you’re instantly getting into that writing zone.

This could mean:

  • Removing distractions from nearby — if you have a bunch of half-read books on your desk and they tempt you away from writing, put them somewhere else.
  • Playing music, white noise, or other sounds that help you focus. I often pick an album (or a band) to listen to just while I’m working on my novel-in-progress, and sometimes use Noisli if I’m struggling to focus on other writing.
  • Using reminders of your writing goals: inspirational quotes or posters on your wall, vision boards, or your total word count so far on a Post-it note on your desk; whatever works for you.

Step #3: Give yourself a break when you need it

While it’s great to form a strong writing habit, if you have a particular day or week when you’re really struggling to write, let it go. Take some time off before you risk burning out. You may just need to let your work sit for a day or two while you give your subconscious a chance to come up with some new insights.

Personally, I sometimes find it hard to distinguish between feeling a bit lazy and being genuinely in need of a break. If that happens to you too, I suggest setting a timer and writing for just 10 minutes.

If you find your initial reluctance to write has faded, or entirely gone, keep going! If those 10 minutes were a real grind, stop and give yourself permission to have a writing break.

Step #4: Stay connected to your writing in busy times

Sometimes, routines get interrupted. Maybe you’re ill, or your kids are ill. Maybe you’re moving house or starting a new job or working on a big non-writing project.

If you know you’re going through a busy patch, and you won’t have the time or energy to write on a regular basis, look for ways to stay connected to your work.

That might mean:

  • Keeping a notebook of ideas for blog posts.
  • Reading books or blogs about writing (or listening to podcasts).
  • Sharing excerpts of your writing with other people.
  • Jotting down a single sentence in a journal every day.

You might find you feel inspired to write a blog post or a new scene of your novel — if so, great, go with it! If you don’t, that’s fine too.

Ultimately, there’s no perfect blend of inspiration and routine that will work for every writer, but all of us need both the spark of inspiration and the momentum of regular work to produce finished work that makes us feel happy and satisfied.

How do you balance inspiration with routine in your own writing life? Share your tips in the comments below!

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Ali Luke blogs about the art, craft and business of writing at Aliventures (when her 3-year-old isn’t demanding to “write on mummy’s laptop”). Her in-depth post Your Two-Year Plan for Writing, Editing and Publishing... .

Aliventures | @aliventures

Ali Luke
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Comments

  1. Great post and well worth reading regularly.

    I’ve always been of the belief that waiting for inspiration is a mistake, so I’ve always tried to move forward on important projects, even if only for 15 minutes a day.

    This week, I’m experimenting with scheduling afternoons instead of smaller chunks of time. For example, I drafted blog posts most of Monday afternoon, then proofed and revised on Wednesday.

    On Tuesday, I drafted freelance articles. On Thursday, I revised and reviewed.

    Today, the only writing thing I HAVE to do is a final review on the current article, then submit it. But I have most of the afternoon for other projects and it’s great.

    I’ve found I’m best for 45 minutes. So I set the timer for 45 minutes and work on the current project, then take a break to do something else (or just go for a short walk). Then another 45 minutes. I’m amazed at the amount of writing I’ve done and at the amount of time I have “left over”.

    It’s a lot more work working this way, but it has been energizing to also discover it is possible to invite inspiration just by sitting down and getting to work.

    • Thanks Carrie! It’s surprising how much 15 minute chunks can add up — and I think 45 minutes, followed by a break, is a great way to work. As you say, it’s surprising how much writing can be produced that way.

  2. I’ve been keeping a notebook with blogging ideas, but I hadn’t considered some of the other things on your list. Thanks for the tips.

  3. I can’t write without inspiration. It actually reflects the quality of my writing, so these advice won’t really work for me.

    • Sorry you didn’t find this helpful! I definitely don’t suggest you force yourself to write. And unless you’re having to wait a long time for inspiration to strike, your current writing practice is, I’m sure, just fine for you. 🙂

  4. Great article. Just what I need.

  5. For years, I have gotten a lot of benefit from writing what I call “sketches”: short passages written in a limited, brief period of time (usually five minutes) with no preparation, outlining, editing or revision. I use “starters” prepared in advance to spark my thoughts, such as an opening sentence, a first and last word, or a title. The passage may end up being a metaphor that would be useful in a political essay, or a speech from a character who might appear in a novel, but most often it is a fragment of a scene that might appear in a novel or short story. It stands on its own; most lead to no later project (although occasionally one can).

    This discipline has definitely sharpened my skills, but I have also been amazed at the power of some of the ideas that have appeared in my sketches. I often ask myself, “Where did that come from?” The realization that it came from the depths of my own being always affirms my sense of myself as a writer.

    (I even sell e-booklets of sketch starters, but when I gave the link, my post didn’t make it through moderation. Sorry if it seemed like spam! But I sincerely believe it’s a helpful exercise for many writers.)

    • (I’m not a moderator or admin or anything here, but I think the moderation is automatic — maybe if you give the name of the book, people can google it?)

      These sketches sound like a brilliant way to not only warm up into writing, but also (as you say) to access that deep part of yourself as a writer and come up with some brilliant ideas.

      I used to do something similar — 5 minute exercises, timed — and though I didn’t really end up using any of the material, I did find that I ended up with a greater breadth of styles and ideas than I would’ve imagined I’d manage! Maybe I should follow your example and get back into doing that. 🙂

      • It’s really great when you happen to be between projects but want to keep up with daily writing! It doesn’t have to take long, and gives a lot of benefit for the time invested.

        For anyone who is interested in getting sketch starters, let me try this instead of a link: If you go to Etsy dot com, you can search for my shop, which is the name of my business, Epiclesis Consulting, with no space in between. (Etsy’s search function is very picky.) I don’t sell the sketch starters from my regular website at this time, so if you’re interested, you have to go to Etsy to get them. (I know, one thinks of Etsy for hand-crocheted scarves, but there’s some digital content too.)

        Whether they use sketches or some other technique, I highly recommend that all writers at least try a daily writing routine for a while. We’re all different, of course, but most will find that it helps them.

  6. Nice post. For me, I need to have a game plan. If I just sit down and say I’m going to write, inspiration is hard to come by, but if I know exactly what I’m going to be working on, inspiration will come with it.

    I’ll also base what I’m going to work on on how much time I have. If I know I only have 30 minutes to write at that time slot, I’ll proofread a short story or do some brainstorming. If I have two hours, I’ll set a small word count goal and go for it.

    • I don’t think planning ever goes amiss. And very sensible to plan according to time available, too — I know that I have a tendency to be wildly optimistic about how much I can get done in a given chunk of time, and I suspect I’m not the only writer who struggles with this!

  7. When I first saw this post I thought, “What a really great question!” As a writer, my formal education some 20 years ago taught me to write all the time, whether it’s journal writing, free writing, etc. – just write all the time about anything. However, now that I am older I’ve found that it really depends on the type of writing you do and the environment that you are in. For example, I am by ‘career’ a technical writer and a grant writer, so there is very little time to await inspiration. There are intense deadlines to meet, therefore sticking with a routine is best. However, I am by ‘career-hobby’ (for lack of a better term) a writer within other types and genres and I’ve found that I write better when inspired. Even if that inspiration comes in the form of something like a song or a recollection. Nevertheless, whether it’s routine or inspiration, all any writer really ever craves is the opportunity to write, right?

  8. Thank you for such a helpful post. I am learning how to write I am not up to scratch yet. I am already using some of the tips you have shared. I have been keeping journals for some time now and I find entering thoughts in a journal everyday or whenever it is convinent helps with the discipline of writing.
    I have found I am inspired in the morning so that has become the time I have established as my writing time I have also found that it sets my day beginning with a positive thing of expressing how I feel first thing in the morning. I have not thought about writing books yet at the moment I am using blogging to learn the skills of writing hopefully that may lead to me attempting writing a book some day. I must admit that my inspiration is having people comment on some of my posts on my blog that is enough motivation to keep me writing.

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