October 22, 2009


My good friend Tim Baron, who also happens to be THE Tim Baron who drew the samurai from the above image, e-mailed me after looking at my "Writer S. Blockhead" cartoon about inspiration. Basically, he said, "You need to block about what to do when that inspiration doesn't come."

The answer is not easy, and I'm pretty sure there's no really good right answer. The closest I can come to, and what I was trying to hit with the cartoon, was this:

Do something about it.

So saying this, I reminded of the financial expert from Saturday Night Live last year:

But there's more to what I'm saying than just, "Identify the problem; fix it!"

When inspiration just falls, it's heavenly. It's a feeling unlike any other. It's like connecting with God. It's almost as if the Creator says, "I'm going to give you a glimpse into what it's like to be me." When words flow, it's an amazing and powerful and triumphant thing. (Speaking of the initial output. Sometimes, it feels bad when, looking over the work, it's not as good as you thought!)

Conversely, when words do not flow it can be a frustrating and terrible thing. It hurts. It's demoralizing. It feels like, at the worst of times, a complete disconnection with the world, with God, and with self. At best, it's a source of frustration.

And there are other factors, too, and when those other factors figure in it's even worse. A lack of inspiration in the face of a deadline, self-imposed or not, makes it even worse. For me, recently, I faced a writer's block when I had to get a project done so we could pay our upcoming mortgage. Talk about heaping a nice scoop of terrible onto a plate full of awful.

But here's where it comes down to that whole "fix it!' idea. (And actually, this ties into my next Writer's Blockhead cartoon.) If you don't feel inspired, you have two choices: put down your pen or pencil or keyboard or whatever and walk away, or push through. Make it happen.

The inspiration didn't fall like rain today? Do a rain dance! You gotta call down the rain, man!

How? Praying helps. Going for a walk. Taking a break. Those sorts of things. The article I came across from Yahoo about energy has some good things to do that will stimulate the ol' brain cells. These books, Write: 10 Days to Overcome Writer's Block and The Write Type (both available in my "Way of the Writer" bookstore -- ordering from it gives me a little kick back . . . just sayin'), have a lot of practical advice as well as some introspective exercises that can reveal some interesting things about how your unique creativity and your creative process.

But there comes a point where you just have to do it. Make yourself do something, anything, no matter how awful it feels like it will end up being. If, like Writer S. Blockhead in the cartoon, you're just going to wait for inspiration to fall on you, it's not going to happen. Getting inspired, sometimes, is a battle, not a gift. It is something that you must choose to go after. It is something you have to fight for. You have to pursue inspiration when it does not pursue you.

Some practical ideas:

  • set goals for yourself -- concrete goals you can keep track of like page or word counts
  • spend time surrounded by other creative people who are also working on something creative
  • just write or doodle, letting whatever happens happen, and then "ride that wave" into whatever it is you want to work on
  • take a break that involves physical activity -- this will not only stimulate different parts of the brain, it will get blood flowing to your brain as well
  • work on something else, perhaps something smaller, especially something that can bring about a feeling of success
These are just a few ideas. But the bottom line is this: you can't just hope something strikes you.

~ Ben

(Ironically, Tim didn't know this, but the next Writer S. Blockhead cartoon also tackles this subject.)

Other "The Way of the Writer" articles:

Why Write?
The Weight of the Writer
Holistic Writing
Intentionality, part 1
Nothing New Under the Sun
Intentionality, part 2
It's So Rewarding

Samurai art by Tim Baron, (c) 2009

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