I rarely get inspiration sitting at my desk, staring at a blank screen. And yet, like so many of you, that’s how I spend the majority of my days as an online business owner!
So, where do I find my creative juice? What brings me writing inspiration?
1. Show up to your part – and let go of the rest
First of all, I have to get out of my own way (psychologically speaking.)
Inspiration can be fickle, so don’t rely on it completely. In fact, I recommend taking Elizabeth Gilbert’s approach. She treats her muse as an independent spirit. She knows it can’t be beaten into submission. Instead, she simply makes the promise to do her half. She shows up with pen (or keyboard) in hand, and makes herself as ready as possible to be an instrument of the muse when it comes passing through.
This is what I recommend for you as well, whether you identify as a creative writer, or as a business person who writes web pages, emails, and blog posts because you know it’s an important way to share your message.
Practice seeing the muse as separate and simply do your part – show up consistently to the place where you do your writing, limit distractions, and give yourself a time limit – let’s say, 1 hour. Be open to the muse, and sit there for the whole time. An hour later, even if the muse never came to visit, you’re free to move on with your day. The key is to show up again tomorrow – because the muse will eventually come.
It’s my personal belief that the more you develop this practice and nurture a low-pressure relationship with your muse, the more writing inspiration will come upon you. Because you’ve made it clear that you’re a willing participant in the creative process.
In an ordinary year, I usually visit at least 2 countries if not 2 continents. There are tons of reasons for this, from a love of food, to visiting friends, to setting my sights on natural beauty. However, underneath it all is a deep sense of awakening that happens when I visit somewhere new – especially a place that stimulates the imagination.
Travel has inspired plenty of artists over the centuries. I always think of Van Gogh’s visits across Europe or the Group of Seven roaming the Canadian wilderness. Exposure to the unfamiliar – in the form of colour, terrain, festivals, and more, all lead to universally loved works of art. I believe it’s because the artist is a stranger in that land, so they can recognize its unique beauty in a way a local might accept as the norm, and they can introduce us to it as fellow strangers, or reintroduce it to the locals through the artists’ eyes.
As writers, we can do the same as the painters. All it takes is an open mind, a willingness to engage in the place we’re travelling to, and biology does the rest – heightening all of our senses so we can absorb every drop of new information. It’s miraculous, and can happen anytime we so much as stray away from our hometowns.
Even when we’re homebound, there are ways we can get close to travel’s benefits. Check out my recent article to learn more.
3. History and family stories
The reason I love history so much that I studied it in university is that, luckily, I always had storytellers share the tales of the real human lives that came before me.
One of the earliest was Caroline Lawrence – who wrote historical fiction, but with factual details about Ancient Rome that only a Classics graduate could provide. Another was my Grade 12 Early Modern European History teacher, who would vividly paint us the big picture of the Enlightenment, while also sharing the grittiest primary sources written by ordinary people in the Haitian Revolution.
Just like a good novel, I got wrapped up in these stories – real stories from our human past. And I was endlessly inspired.
Long before hearing tales from human history, I heard family stories. I learned how my great-grandma had a better shot than men in the army but never left Winnipeg in World War Two, and how my Italian nonni left everyone they’d ever loved on a boat to Halifax in the 1950s. They worked from the ground up in Toronto with Grade 3 educations and discrimination at every turn, working in the subway system and in chicken and toy factories until they could send my mom and her brother to university. These are specific stories of human resilience, heroism, flaws, and tragedy – marked by the historical events that make up the big picture called “history.” And they’re just as inspiring.
So, how do you capture this inspiration? You could write historical fiction of course, but you may also be inspired to write science fiction based on the politics of that time period, or turn a particular relationship among your ancestors into a modern-day romance. Or you may simply want to write about the real history itself where it intersects with a theme from your blog or illustrates a lesson that you teach in your business.
It’s almost like travelling again – but time travelling. All the same benefits can apply.
4. Enjoying other forms of art
When I was a teenager, I read the book Steal Like an Artist and was blown away by insights like these:
“If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”
It’s true that there’s nothing new under the sun – and that’s a good thing! What a relief! Being original is mixing the familiar in a new way, or mixing two or more unfamiliar things for the first time. That is novelty. Even book agents are looking for what’s fresh rather than something that’s never been done before. So embrace the freedom that comes with being let off the hook!
Regardless of the fact that you’re looking for writing inspiration, go and engage with any form of art. Spend the day getting lost in the paintings at your local museum. Check out an indie rock show, or put on some tracks from a classic album. Read outside your favourite genre – especially works that were originally written in another language or another country. And then let it all gestate.
Clear your mind, do the mundane thing like take a shower or go on a hike. And then return to your workspace. See what new connections you’ve made out of the influences that what came before. That’s the crux of pretty much all sources of inspiration, including the first 3 ones I shared above.
I’ve also put together this free infographic about finding inspiration every day by refilling your creative well. You can download it or print it out and stick it on the wall by your desk. Even if you followed Liz Gilbert’s advice and waited for your muse but she didn’t visit today, give it a ripe and nurtured creative ground to visit tomorrow by doing at least one item on creative well list. It’s as easy as it sounds.
Since it’s that wonderful year 2020, how are you getting inspired while working from home in front of a screen? Share your tips in the comments below so we can all benefit!