Inspiration Finds You Working: How to stay productive when you feel wrung out of ideas

Inspiration Finds You Working: How to stay productive when you feel wrung out of ideas from The House of Muses.

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I know I write a lot about inspiration here. It's good stuff. It seems to blossom up from the depths of your psyche, appearing when least expected, in a book, a shop, or a forest, or a painting. But what about those times when the well of inspiration seems rather dry? What about those times when we don't feel the warm glow of inspiration, but we have a project on the line, a novel to write, or a website or photo shoot to organize for a client?

Do we wait?

Sometimes we feel as though it all has to be right for the magic to happen— the right room, the right lighting, the right music (or lackthereof) the right pyjama bottoms, the right cup of tea. It would positively peachy of all of these things could coincide all the time— we'd be very productive people, making masterpieces day by day. The truth is, we can, and we must, do these things anyway.

Even when the weather sucks. Even when we're tired. Even when the atmosphere isn't quite right, the coffee isn't great, the pen isn't the right pen, and the laptop screen is blitzing your eyes out. Art is not separate from work. When artists work for a living, they do exactly that— work. They produce in all kinds of circumstances no matter how magnificent or minuscule the inspiration, wonderful things. How do they do that?

There really isn't a secret to it. Artists work even when they're not inspired.



Well, this sounds like crap, you might be thinking. Sure, working when it's a struggle may be, well, a struggle. But there is one, beautiful, shining silver lining here, and that is work brings inspiration. Inspiration brings more inspiration.

Ideas generate more ideas.

I know. It's hard to get to that place when you already feel stuck. But just like doing the first little bit of exercise gives you more energy, nudging the ideas wheel over the edge of the hill will allow it to gain boundless momentum. If you don't have inspiration when you begin working, you will certainly have it once you get working.

“You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Maya Angelou

But how do I take these first steps? They can be some of the most difficult ever, like trying to sprint wearing lead shoes. There are a few things you can do to help, and I use these ALL THE TIME. There are only three steps, so consider writing them and pinning them up on a board, or on your fridge— somewhere near your work space when you can see them.

1. Make a list.

Honestly I should be shot for how often I say this, but I promise you, it's exactly the thing you want to do. You can put as many things on this list as you like, but the main thing to take away here is that you prioritize the top three things you want to get done, and put them at the top. Then, do them first. Do the most unpleasant one first, even. In fact, this is probably the number one thing I suggest to Getting Shit Done. Now I'm not saying the first thing on your list should be 'Write the novel.' That's not something you can really do in a day. Or even a week (unless you're this friend of mine during NaNoWriMo, in which case.... you know who you are). But you can put the first step to writing that novel on your list. Absolutely dreading a first chapter? Make your day's most important goal to write three paragraphs. I promise once you get this far you will feel the warm momentum of inspiration inside you. That's slightly inappropriate.

*I would also advise adding some things to this list you keep you sane. If they're on the list, they're valid. Which makes showering, and making lunch just as important as churning out that prized blog post.

2. Anything counts.

The main thing here is that the first thing you produce does not have to be the final result! Bask in that freedom for a while. No one has to see it. No one has to know what those first words, first lines, first rows, first anythings looked or sounded like. To get started, produce something. Anything. When I'm writing, and I'm stuck, I'll often being with stream of consciousness. It gets my hands used to writing, and my brain used to producing thoughts at a consistent flow.

'Well, here I am, sitting at my desk. Cool outside, nice breeze. A bit tired this morning, but I've been meaning to write, so here I am. I'm suppose to write chapter three, where Foozle does a, b, and c, except I've been thinking instead when she talks to Mr. Bumblefumple, she'll do this..."

BAM. All of a sudden the flow is there, the scene is playing out in front of me. Sometimes this goes on for far longer than I would ever like to admit to the world, but the fact is, it almost always works. Do I keep these bits that I write? Often not. However, sometimes these little ramblings generate the biggest flashes of inspiration and the best bits of writing I've ever produced.

3. Walk it off & talk it off.

While persistence is definitely key in most of these situations, sitting for hours in front of a screen, page, or canvas before putting your head through the wall is not the solution. Repeat after me: not the solution. If you've worked your way through steps one and two and you still feel as though you'd rather eat your laptop than continue to stare at it, go outside. Walk around the block. Walk around seven blocks. Walk to a park. Maybe bring a notebook just in case, but go simply with the intention of breathing some fresh air. Getting a little bit of light exercise, getting away from your surroundings and out into a new environment are the perfect breeding grounds for new ideas and happier moods.

If you think a simple case of relocation will help you out, go settle in a coffee shop for a while, but be careful not to get stuck in the Right-Room-Right-Music-Right-Lighting situation.

If you have any doubts that this one is a good idea, prolific J.K. Rowling walked out many a plot problem.

Now I'm cheating by making this point a two-pronged point. The second part is to collaborate. I've been beaten over the head by the Wild Unknown Tarot by messages about collaboration and teamwork and they are completely valid here, even if you're working on a solo project. Sometimes trying to explain what you're aiming to do to someone else will reveal aspects of your project you yourself were not aware of. Sometimes, merely bouncing ideas off of someone else and hearing their casual feedback will be just the thing you need to take the first step and take on that new landscape.

Of course, there are many more ways out there to deal with the momentum vs. inspiration problem. Am I missing something that works for you every time? Share with us below! We'd love to learn about your process.

I feel like this is also the appropriate place to direct you to the 7 inspirational videos which always kick my ass into gear.


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