Inspiration. That elusive muse which seems to elude every writer when they need it most. Many a writer has wasted months and years awaiting the arrival of it, only to be thwarted by time and life.
Let me start by saying this: Inspiration is a LIE.
“Inspiration” is an excuse writers use to excuse their lack of productivity and planning.
Allow me to explain.
The feeling of being “inspired” when writing is a wonderful tool, and it certainly exists in spurts of euphoric productivity. The words fly from your fingertips effortlessly, cranking up the word count on your writing project rapidly in a sleepless frenzy fueled only by chocolate, caffeine, and magic. But this moment is the product of a writing process that is anything BUT magical. “Inspiration” as most writers use the word does not happen by accident, it is the product of careful thought and planning.
Yes, folks, I’m talking about pre-writing. This could mean the dreaded process of outlining, creating character backstories and profiles, storyboarding, and countless other formulaic processes to get yourself in gear for your big bestseller.
Unfortunately, outlining doesn’t work for everyone in the writing process, particularly those of us writers who like to become “inspired.”
That’s why I decided to write this article, to talk about alternative ways of pre-writing that can help the less organized writers like me become prepared to begin their novel. Outlines are great, character profiles are helpful, and storyboarding… well, I don’t even entirely understand what that is but I’m sure somebody out there finds it life-saving. But for the rest of the population (like myself admittedly) these structures can feel confining to our creative process.
But that does NOT mean we’re off the hook for pre-writing! If you are waiting for inspiration instead of doing an outline, wait no longer! Here are alternative pre-writing activities to help get you in the zone for your story:
1: Create Playlists Based on Characters and/or Themes of Your Novel
Music is a great way to get into the emotional states of your characters, or to psych yourself out before writing that kick-ass fight scene. Create playlists or Pandora stations for everything. Is your character heartbroken? Listen to Adele. Epic battle sequence? Adiomachine. Have fun with it, and try to listen to music that makes you feel what your characters feel, or how you want readers to feel when reading your scenes. You’ll be anxious to get to the keyboard in no time.
2. Use Pinterest for Inspiration Boards
If musical inspiration doesn’t do it for you, visual cues may work. If you’re writing a romance, there is no shortage of sexy images of couples in love. If you are writing historical fiction, pin outfits from your era. I can tell you right now there’s no shortage of medieval and fantasy images poised for your use on Pinterest. I often create boards to help me envision characters, their outfits, their emotional states, etc. Visuals really do help me describe things, as I am not great at visualization on my own.
3. Watch Movies/TV in Your Genre
Warning: proceed at the risk of impromptu Netflix binges or Game of Thrones marathons.
If you can’t get enough visual or musical inspiration, why not combine them for a cinematic experience? Be careful with this one. Re-watch a series you love or find a new movie in your genre. Do NOT start a new series for inspiration. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t start something you won’t be able to shut off to write, and watch in short spurts so you can let the material digest and inspire your own original thoughts.
4. Fan-Cast Your Novel
I’ll be honest, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole with this one. But used in moderation, fancasting your characters can be a fun motivator to begin the writing process. Find actors that not only have the right look, but who embody the right mannerisms and characters in certain roles they play. My friend Genevieve, who fan-casted the above images, did an excellent job selecting actors who have great performance ranges to inspire her for the characters. She and I frequently (okay, TOO frequently) trade off names of actors we think would be excellent in the roles for the other’s novels. No, we don’t actually believe our novels will be made into big-budget hollywood movies starring our favorite people. But these actors and their performances in various roles have helped us craft characters we adore, and we hope our readers do, too.
I know, this sounds like more work. But the right kind of research can significantly help you get into the right mindset for a novel. Reading literature written in the era of your historical novel can help you get into the right language patterns. Reading about the metaphysical and visiting haunted places could help you gear up for a paranormal romance.
As a notorious “pantser” when it comes to writing (a writer who likes to fly by the seat of their pants) I often am tempted to fall into the “inspiration” trap. To ignore my writing projects and wait for my motivation to spontaneously arrive. However, these alternative methods for finding inspiration help me be productive even during my “off” months. So even if I’m not writing words every day, I am thinking and meditating on my characters, trying to decide what methods I’ll need to use to evoke the right emotions in my writing. No, I’m not sitting on the sidelines waiting for inspiration to come to me. I’m laying the foundation that will propel me forward when I’m ready to do my story justice.
How do you get in the zone for writing? Do you, too, struggle to find inspiration?