Some artists breeze through creative projects in a frenzy of endless passion, and are never far off from their next big idea. Some artists struggle with frequent dry-spells and have a tough time finishing the projects they start. Some people are a mix of both.
I’m happy to say I’m the first. In fact, I’ve written every day for the past sixteen years, and have completed about 40 novels during that time. Most of those were just for fun; only six (and a half!) so far, were ever written with publishing in mind.
When I share this with other writers, they often ask me how I stay inspired and keep up the drive to write. The truth is, that drive requires very little maintenance from me. As Isaac Asimov once said:
I write for the same reason I breathe — because if I didn’t, I would die.
Even so, I’ve passed through periods where I struggled to finish specific creative projects, where I read far more than I wrote, and where I focused more on dabbling in visual arts than the written word. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way about staying inspired and keeping those creative juices flowing.
1. Create When Inspiration Hits
Have you ever been on the brink of sleep after a long day, and the most amazing idea hits you? Maybe you’re on the subway going home. In the middle of a movie. Working on another project. You set it aside because life, and when you finally sit down to write or paint, you find yourself staring at a blank page.
This has happened to me so often that I now limit how often I reschedule creative pursuits because of life. If I’m in the middle of a blog post, and my novel calls, I go where passion leads me. I find my writing is best when I follow this road to creating.
2. Make Your Craft Easily Accessible
To reduce the instances where life gets in the way and working on your craft becomes an inconvenience, make it more easily accessible. If you’re a visual artist, keep a sketchpad or a camera handy. If you’re a writer, consider getting a Bluetooth keyboard to connect to your phone, and write via Google Docs so you never need a thumb drive.
3. Take Good Notes
Unfortunately, sometimes there is no getting around life. Sometimes you really do have four hours to catch some shuteye before a 16-hour shift. Maybe you’re driving. Maybe you’re ill. These things happen.
Luckily, there are ways around this, too. Text yourself that plot twist, do a quick sketch in your notebook, or voice-record the blog post idea you have in mind via your phone. You can get back to it later.
4. Delve Into the Research
The most common reason I get stuck on a scene is because I’m really not sure how to string my words together. I find that the easiest way to remedy this problem is to do a bit of investigating and brush up on the information I need.
Sometimes that means reading a 28-year-old book on the French Revolution, as I’m doing for The Moreau Witches, and sometimes it’s watching a TV series or show set in the same era or covering the same topic. This is especially helpful for action pieces and period pieces.
5. Suffer Alongside Other Artists
For most of my life, I considered writing, a solitary activity. Having other people around while I tried to push through a tough scene only served as a terrible distraction. Not surprisingly, for a long time, I was the only writer I knew. That was, however, until I discovered writing groups like #turtlewriters on Twitter, and later joined a local writing group in Atlanta.
Being in the company of other inspired and inspirational writers, and committing to meet up just for the purpose of writing, really forced me to keep working on my novels. Believe it or not, it is easy for me to slip into a habit of blogging and only peeking at fiction every so often.
Why? Because it is easier to report than to invent.
The pressure for creatives to remain creative is often as much self-imposed as society-imposed. Unfortunately, we don’t always keep up the pace. Even renowned artists like George R. R. Martin sometimes can’t be bothered to complete a novel with a cult-following and multi-billion-dollar TV show. The good news is, you’re not alone, and all is not yet lost. Hang in there.