four // tools for the uninspired

four // tools for the uninspired

Usually when I’m writing fiction, I’m having a good time, especially when I’m really trucking along, in the heart of the action, no pesky transitions or trying to slip backstory inconspicuously into conversation. But there are days — and with this work load as of late, I’ve experienced these days often — when writing really seems a lot like work, something I have to glue myself to a chair for an hour in order to accomplish. And I’ve found that when those days come knocking, it’s usually because I’m hopelessly uninspired.

If you’re a writer (and not a unicorn) you probably have these days too. Maybe you’re knee-deep in a transitional phase of your novel, or maybe you’re sifting through prompts for a new short story and struggling to pin one; it could be that you’ve fallen out of routine and are cramming your writing into the end of your day, or that you just aren’t jibing with your current project. Whatever ails you, I (and the internet) have a few cures for your writing blues.

1. Music

Okay, obvious, but I have to admit, for a long time I wrote in stubborn silence with my eyes glued to the screen cringing at every sound coming from the neighbor’s. Some of this may have stemmed from habits formed over years of writing school essays and feeling like anything but pure silence was a distraction. But then I read a great article* on how film and video game soundtracks are designed to keep audiences and gamers engaged, making them great backing tracks for studying or writing. Now, even when I’m just digging into my word count at the end of a draining day, I still look forward to the writing time because I also get to listen to some of my favorite music.

My suggestions? I usually listen to the Elder Scrolls soundtracks when I write (or Jeremy Soule’s solo album), because they are unobtrusive, but have pleasant, nostalgic melodies (Everness on YouTube has an extensive playlist of Skyrim music — some tracks are even backed by rain sounds). The Last of Us, Inception, and The Book of Eli also have great soundtracks, particularly for dystopian themed stories, but anything ambient and without lyrics is great for productivity.

The only exception to this might be a song that has specifically inspired your work. It might be helpful to listen to this song before you dive into your writing sessions to recall those feelings and mindsets the song provokes. Hold On by Tom Waits, for example, has set the tone for one of my short stories and I listen to it often before working on my story. Has the song gotten old? Incredibly. Does it put me in the right frame of mind? Always.

2. Podcasts

Not while you’re writing, but if music hasn’t helped and you haven’t put a dent in your daily word count and have ripped all of your hair out and are reaching for your eyelashes, it can be beneficial to step away and listen to what other writers in your same position have to say about it. I suggest podcasts over books on writing because, like music, listening to people speak triggers your brain to relax more than sitting to read, nonfiction books particularly. You can also listen to podcasts while taking care of other things — work, laundry, driving, wiping your daughter’s butt — and get inspired before your fingers even hit the keys.

My suggestions? There are plenty of wonderful writing podcasts out there, but my favorite is the Write Now Podcast with Sarah Werner. The episodes are short and easy to listen to, Sarah’s voice is calm and reassuring, and she offers great, practical advice that’s easy to implement for writers of all stages. Her main focus is helping working writers achieve a healthy balance between their careers, families, and passion for writing, but every episode has been vital to my continued motivation. I usually listen to the podcast when I’m running errands or completing chores, so that I’m itching to write by the time I get to my computer.

If WNP doesn’t tickle your fancy, here are some honorable mentions: Reading and Writing Podcast, Helping Writers Become Authors, and I Should Be Writing. All will entertain you. All will kick your butt into writing gear.

3. Pen and Paper

Boring old pen and paper. This is actually my favorite tip because, through the years I’ve been writing fiction, I’ve found the most success in ditching writer’s block using these tools. Like most writers, I’m an intense perfectionist, and typing stories on a computer can amplify its constraints, as though I don’t have permission to be messy. Aside from being a complete and utter lie, perfectionism is death for inspiration, as it focuses your energy on an unattainable standard and leaves you paralyzed with fear that anything you write will be less than.

Putting pen to paper allows you to breathe and explore underdeveloped and imperfect ideas you might otherwise ignore. With pen and paper, you can write terrible sentences to push through a hazy patch in your plot (and it’s no skin off your nose since those terrible sentences won’t have to coexist with the rest of your beautiful writing), or draw stick-figure maps to figure out where your characters are supposed to go next. Imagination can be chaotic and pen and paper are naturally sloppy tools; with them in hand, there will be mistakes, but sometimes you have to make those mistakes in order to pull your imagination out of the grind.

My suggestions? Keep a pen and paper with you at all times, whether it be a notebook or, as many writers suggest, a flashcard or two, because you never know the events or people or words you encounter that will be worth remembering. Even a little note can spark big ideas, and having a pen and some paper means you’re always prepared given the chance to write.

/// E.S.T.

NOW TELL ME // How do you deal with a writing rut? What has been the most reliable tip or tool to pull you out of writer’s block? Tell me in a comment!

*This is not the exact article, but it is very similar.

photo by: Annie Spratt

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