What Should You Do When Inspiration Hits?

{Etsy art by Lyrical Artworks}
{Etsy art by Lyrical Artworks}

It happens at the most inopportune times.

It happens when you’re driving,

when you’re in the shower,

when you’re running.

When your mind finally quiets down, inspiration hits!

That’s a great thing unless you’re in motion and can’t jot it down. What do you do in those situations?

Do you pull over on the side of the road (hopefully you don’t try to text while driving)?

Do you shorten your shower?

Do you stop running mid-way?

Or do you just let the idea slip right out of your hands?

If you’re like me, you’re desperate to save inspired thoughts and would do anything to keep from losing them. I’ve tried different note taking apps and audio recorders. But this is the one thing I didn’t think of. Letting them go.

I just listened to a Sounds True podcast with mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn. Here’s what he said about ideas during meditation:

“I think that if a thought is really, truly innovative and creative, you won’t have it once and never remember it. So a lot of people might think, ‘Well, if I’m meditating, I better sit with a pen and a pad of paper to capture any of these fantastic, great, wonderful, Nobel Prize-winning, breakthrough thoughts that I might have.’ But I don’t do that. In fact, I don’t recommend that anybody do that, because then you’re just busy writing down your discursive thoughts in the hope that you’ll put them to work at some later time.”

Most interesting is what he says about how our thoughts, the really good ones, don’t go away. In fact, if we’re mindful, he says they come in waves, ready to greet you once again.

“We’re all geniuses of one kind or another, and I think part of it is that we don’t recognize it, and other people never recognize it, and we often don’t get a chance to put it into any kind of play—our own unique aspect of genius. But when you’re watching your mind in this kind of way, it rapidly becomes apparent because things recur. So interesting thoughts come back over and over and over again, which is one reason you don’t need to write them down or remember them because they have a way of nurturing you in a certain way.”

I once worried while practicing yoga, meditating, biking or showering that I would lose my ideas forever. This puts me at ease. Looks like it’s one less thing we writers need to worry about.

Don’t Make These Rookie Mistakes

{Modern Embroidery by CheeseBeforeBedtime}
{Modern Embroidery by CheeseBeforeBedtime}

The Internet would have you believe we’re all shiny, happy writers. We’re perfect and typo free. The truth is the longer we’ve been in business and the more successful we are, the more mistakes we’ve accumulated.

In the 7 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve pumped out prose for companies and publications I’m pretty proud of. That doesn’t mean I haven’t made my share of embarrassing mistakes.

Here are 2 I hope you never have to make:

1) Applying to everything.

When I first found jobs online, actual writing jobs, I got a little apply happy. In other words, every time I saw the words “writing job,” I applied to it. As you can imagine, it wasted a ton of time. It left me with little energy to focus on the jobs I really wanted and when I did get recruiters, hiring managers and potential clients calling me back, I was confused. I couldn’t remember what job I applied to and what company it was for. Pretty embarrassing. Which leaves me to #2.

2) Winging it.

Because I wasn’t focused on what I wanted to do, I got a lot of response from companies I didn’t have time to research. Talk about humiliating. When they asked me the standard, “Why do you want to work for us?” or, “Can you tell me what we do?” I was at a lost for words. It still haunts me. In fact, I’m cringing as I type this.

What it taught me is the importance of waiting for the right job. When I say “right,” I mean writing projects that a) you’re qualified for 2) you’re passionate about. Nowadays when clients contact me, I’m clear about who they are and what they want me to do. I’d say I’m pretty lucky. And that luck is dependent on me being choosy about who I decide to work with and for. It eliminates writing jobs that aren’t a good fit and it leaves me time to research those that are.

Have you made any embarrassing mistakes in the past? Let’s share our awkward moments together.

Is Your Ego Getting in the Way of Your Writing?

{Etsy photo by AliciaBlock}
{Etsy photo by AliciaBlock}

All artists have trouble with their egos. Maybe it’s because unlike other fields, our sense of self and our creation are personally intertwined in a beautiful, yet complicated relationship. We often get defensive when editors pick away at our prose. And when finally hitting send on that perfect piece we spent days on, we’ve never felt more vulnerable.

That’s why it hurts so much when we’re rejected. It’s not just an attack on our work, but it feels like an attack on our soul.

But allowing our egos to get wrapped up in our work isn’t just unrealistic and draining, it’s bad for business.

I asked my husband recently about what it is about artistic fields that can make even the strongest among us, neurotic, defensive and whiny.

He said simply, “It’s subjective work. If I’m doing something for my job, I’ll know if it’s right or wrong. For you, it’s a little more shady.”

That gray area can mean that no matter how many times you think you got it “right,” there’s someone with a red pen ready to mark up your work and say it’s, “wrong.” On one hand, that’s a good thing. Being a writer, forces you to continuously work on improving and getting better. On the other hand, if you’re a perfectionist, you might have to be like me and learn how to take the criticisms as they come. You need to realize it’s never a personal thing. It’s your job.

So when you feel under attack, try the following to get back on track:

  1. Take a breather. Step away from your computer. Go for a walk. Talk to a friend. Watch mindless TV. Distract yourself so you don’t get more absorbed into your own little drama.
  2. Work on something else.  Maybe you’re too focused on this project and your brain needs time to settle on something else. Switching gears can give you insight into what you could do to improve the situation.
  3. Get another perspective. It’s easy to read into things when you’re tired, too invested in a project or just sensitive. Asking someone you trust for their opinion, could help you to see that what you thought was an attack is really nothing personal at all.
  4. Look at the big picture. In the almost 7 years I have been writing professionally, there have been many clients who seemed to like my work and then disappeared. I wish those clients had been honest with me about how I was doing. If you can look for the opportunity in what seems like an obstacle, you can only improve as a writer.

What about you?

What helped you overcome your own insecurities as a writer? Were you bold enough to confront an editor or did you try the above four to help heal your open wounds and soothe your ego?

 

A Writer’s Self Confession of Procrastination

{Pinterest photo}
{Pinterest photo}

Here it is. I can write to my heart’s content meeting and surpassing deadlines if it is for someone else. In fact, it is one of my writerly strengths to submit a piece days before it’s due. But my own work? Sadly, still sitting untouched in Google Drive.

I know that writers need a break. I understand that paid work feeds the hungry writer. But the idea that I’ve let this dream of mine slide eats away at this writer’s soul. It makes me feel like a failure and a fake. I see successes like hers and a pulsating thought rises in my thoughts, “You’ll never make it.” And it’s hard not to listen to that one. After all, a story doesn’t write itself.

In the lifetime that I’ve written I built an impressive graveyard of untouched, unfinished stories. I’ve always visited them respectfully, mourning their lost. But I’ve also done so with great pride for the attempts I made believing they were little souls that helped me grow, but were not ready for the world. It’s hard to keep telling myself this, however, when my priorities have slipped.

How does a writer keep themselves fueled and motivated when the desire to make money overtakes inspiration?

This quote from first time novelist Ayana Mathis helped me. Maybe it will help you too:

“When you’re working on a project for months and months—whether it’s a book or anything else that requires a sustained effort—it’s easy to get discouraged. The rewards are few, and you feel as if it’s never, ever going to be done…Acquiring any skill is like this: You make a little progress; then you lose ground; then you make a little more progress. Accepting the fits and starts is the only way to keep yourself from giving up.”

It’s a desire to keep going once we stopped that helps us through the periods of procrastination. It’s not stopping that makes us failures. It’s not even an end. It’s simply a pause. As we have all learned and grown in the process of building our freelance writing careers, it takes time. It takes courage. And it means not beating ourselves up when we fall. Because we all do. Every successful writer does. That means if you’ve briefly paused, you’re still in the running fellow writer. Don’t give up!

Why Daydreaming is Good for Your Writing

{flickr photo by Colton Witt Photography}

 

Hurray for daydreaming! It’s the thing you loved to do in school, but what you were most likely to get punished for. Well now there’s legitimate reason to zone off when bored.

Yes, according to author Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine: How Creativity Works, it’s those moments when you’re dazing out the window that your getting the most work done. Perhaps all of us writers knew this intuitively. But Lehrer’s book provides actual research to back that statement up. In it, he describes the work of psychologist Jonathan Schooler and his research on daydreams and their benefits.

And what did Schooler find?

“His [Jonathan Schooler’s] lab has demonstrated that people who consistently engage in more daydreaming score significantly higher on measures of creativity.”

Go Daydreamers!

So how do you reap the best benefits of daydreaming?

The process is two-fold. First you need to daydream, of course. And then you need to be aware of the fact that you’re doing it. People who can interrupt their thoughts when they’ve hit a solution to a problem are the ones that are going to benefit from creative insight.

How to Use Daydreaming to Write Better

Schooler increases the chances of creative insight in his own life by prioritizing mind-wandering activities like hiking. And you should too.

It may feel like getting away from your computer is the worst possible thing you can do when you’re stuck on what to write next, but it could do wonders for your writing. The more you can leave the actual problem where it is and zoom in on something else, the more likely you’ll be able to solve that debilitating blockage.

It’s not only a great excuse to take a break, but it’s a smart one too!

 

The Fight Between Left and Right

{White flag. iPhone photo taken while hiking on Mariner’s Ridge in Hawaii.}

What’s one of the hardest battles you’ll fight as a writer?

The battle within yourself.

Working on an article recently, I found myself on the front lines defending my creative prose with an ardent editor. Unforgiving and rigid, she was on task to cut away my unnecessary words and fluffy copy for something more streamlined. It was a hard battle lost my friends. All the more so because that editor was me.

Every writer has two sides of their brain that battles for attention. My right brain is the more feisty one relentlessly slipping in creative allegories for fun. It’s my left brain that has to follow closely behind like a parent of a 2-year-old, afraid of what trouble he or she’s going to get into next.

It’s an exhausting feat. If I don’t give her free reign to self-expression, my work comes back bulky, incomprehensible, and childlike. At the same time, if she’s dormant, my writing can seem dull, forced and tense. It’s an ongoing balance that needs to be met. This is accomplished only if I spend adequate amounts of time free writing, painting or partaking in any unedited artistic expression. It’s the part of me that likes to make up phrases like “crud of the crop,” or paint with wild abandon. These tasks hold just as much value as creating an outline or transcribing a piece. I need to appease both sides in order to write anything worthy of publication.

It’s always an exhausting feat this writing stuff. But I’ve learned a few ways to make it easier. Writing freely in my first draft, for example, helps. My husband calls this my “throwing up” process. It’s an ugly read so he often asks to stay out of it. This is time for my right brain to get it all in, every creative word, phrase and analogy. On another day, my task oriented left brain rolls her eyes and has fun holding down the delete button. There will be many many more edits after that. But if I can soothe my right brain by keeping old prose that doesn’t work “for another time,” then it’s a lot easier to cut.

In the end, it’s a battle won by both. The most successful pieces incorporates creativity and is concise. It’s always a challenge because truthfully I have an affinity for my right side.

I’m wondering how often you have trouble with this too. Is your right or left brain more dominant when you write?

Starting Over

{by Brandi-Ann Uyemura}

Fabulous careers in creative fields (like you writers) deserve a little more attention, motivation and flexibility than other fields. You need to roll with the punches, get your tough going (when the going gets rough) and be willing to go for the ride. [Definitely met my “trite phrases quota” for the day.]

Part of that is getting used to the up and down roller coaster ride of both inspiration and writing gigs. That means sometimes there will be lulls, sometimes there will be speed bumps. And when I’m on a high, I need to remember to stop myself from being too big for my britches, less I forget that I’m about to fall back into a valley.

I’ve recently moved to Hawaii and left the comforts of mainland writing gigs. Actually, I left during the peak of my career and had to turn down several lucrative opportunities that did not allow me to work from home. But like you, I’m met with just another writing hurdle. One that asks the question:

How do you start over again?

How do you start over if you’ve been fired from a job, quit the current one or projects have ended?

You dust yourself off and get resourceful. Contact previous clients or tell friends, acquaintances, family members that you’re looking for a new one. Join a writing club, create your own (if anyone lives in Hawaii who’s interested in attending a club, I’m about to start my own).

You remember that things take time. 

You remember how busy you were when things were going good so you use the time to rest and recoup before your next big gig.

You forget about how good it was so that you can move on to bigger and better things.

You do an inventory of skills you may need and equipment and supplies you don’t. Use the time to reorganize, take classes, and read up on your field.

Most importantly, don’t lose hope. Starting over seems scary because we get too comfortable where we are. Life is about beginnings and ends. Sometimes we forget that and believe we have control over everything in life. In Produced By Faith DeVon Franklin says we only have control over two things:

“how we prepare for what might happen, and how we respond to what just happened.”

{If passion’s what you need help with, you might want to read my latest article for The Writer magazine here.}

How Yoga Can Heal Your Writing Pains

{flickr photo}

What do you do when fear and procrastination threaten to derail your writing? 

Writer and coach Cynthia Morris has been writing since 1994, coaching writers since 1999 and published several articles and two books: a historical novel called Chasing Sylvia Beach and Create Your Writer’s Life: A Guide to Writing with Joy and Ease. What has helped her persist is a unique combination of yoga and what she calls, “juju.” Read on to find out how they may be able to help you jump start your own writing:

“I think both my writing practice and my yoga practice made me this persistent. But I also tap into my values to help me persist. When the hedonist in me entices me to abandon difficult work and do something fun and easy, I look for ways to love the difficulty. Challenge and curiosity are two important values to me. By persisting with draft after draft with the novel I am honoring those values. This makes the work easier to bear.”

What’s juju and how can it spark your creativity?

“To me, juju is the magical synchronicity, surprise and connections we experience
when we’re in the flow with our creative vitality. For instance, throughout the twelve years it took to write Chasing Sylvia Beach, I had to do a lot of research. Again and again, at just the right time, the necessary resources and connections showed up. The surprises seemed nothing short of miraculous. I began to see them as blessings, gifts and boons that I could never have imagined or planned on my own. I am not sure how juju works, but I love the feeling I get when I experience it: joy, delight, trust and encouragement. This isn’t just me, though. Working with my clients, they experience juju, too. It’s a big part of what helps them ignite their writing passion on an ongoing basis. The trick is to pay attention; some clients even keep a juju or synchronicity journal to help remind them they’re on the right track.”

Maybe all you need to get your writing mojo back is to do some yoga and tune into your own juju. If not, what tips, tricks, techniques help you get your juices flowing and your creativity back?

Cynthia offers a ton of free articles and inexpensive ways to keep your writinglife vibrant with your passion and commitment, including her free video course,Secrets to Empowered Creativity. You can visit Cynthia at http://www.originalimpulse.com for more resources on keeping the passion in your writing life.

Help This Writer Out!

{flickr photo}

Fellow writer Daylin Van Zandt sent me a message over Facebook today that inspired me. He decided to quit his full-time job to fulfill a dream. I’m so excited for him! One of his dreams is to start a community magazine. While he has the networks and the know-how to get started, he wanted some tips, advice, suggestions on what steps to take to get cracking on this latest endeavor. I asked Daylin if I could post his question on my blog in the hopes that you generous and wise readers could help out. His message is below. Please leave a comment to let him know what you think.

“I was going through old emails and I actually saved the few of them that we sent back and forth last year. I took some time to read them and it really inspired me again. I recently quit my job that I had in a call center and took a part time job tutoring which is really awesome so far. I am left with about 20 extra hours a week to pursue what I am passionate about. I have been working on some film/photography projects (none are paying yet but its good experience). I’m also trying to start a community magazine and start writing and publishing. We have a local company that distributes free arts and entertainment papers (charging for advertising) but I have heard from a lot of people that for one they are too expensive to advertise in and two the articles and coverage they do isn’t a true representation of what’s really going on in the local culture. So I’m trying to find a way to make this happen. I was wondering how you think it would be best to go about creating this. Blog? Printing? I’m really excited and motivated. I have alot of really good contacts in the city and an active involvement in arts/business/music/film/access to writers. I just wanted to know what you thought.”