25 Inspiration Sources for the Discouraged Writer

Ever feel discouraged about writing?

Andrew Stawarz

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We’ve all had them: days when the words don’t flow, characters remain flat, plot refuses to cooperate, and three rejections show up in your inbox. Maybe you’re rethinking this whole writing thing. Maybe you’re questioning your sanity. Or whether you actually have talent.

Or both.

Well, I’ve got good news for you: you aren’t alone. And I don’t know about you, but I find that it helps, somehow, to know that other writers have trudged through swamps of despair and lived to tell the tale. I can tell myself that this, too shall pass.

But what do you do when you’re in the midst of an uncooperative rewrite, a slew of rejections, or a complete desert of inspiration? What do you do when you’re the discouraged writer?

While I don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, I do have some ideas to try:

  1. Quit submitting. If rejections are getting you down, there’s a good chance that you’ve lost touch with the joy of writing.  Step back from the pursuit of publication to rediscover why you started writing in the first place.
  2. Submit more! Yeah, I know—contradictory advice. But I warned you this wouldn’t be one-size-fits-all :). Sometimes you might need to step away from pursuit of publication; other times, you might need to thumb your nose at rejection by sending your work back into the world again.
  3. Get another opinion—from a critique partner, an online critique group, or a professional editor. Sometimes a fresh perspective is the key to breaking through times of feeling stuck.
  4. Start a new project.
  5. Dust off an old project.
  6. Read other authors’ rejection stories.
  7. Play with words.
  8. Re-read your favorite author to remember what you aspire to accomplish.
  9. Re-read your least favorite author to remember how much better your writing is compared to that lf so many others.
  10. Reach out to writing friends in person.
  11. Cultivate relationships online.
  12. Give something back—share a critique, an essay, or an hour of your time with a writer with less experience,
  13. Encourage another writer.
  14. Journal. Heck, writers and psychotherapists are some of the fortunate few who have psychiatric analysis as part of their job description–make use of it to get past creative blocks.
  15. Identify where you feel helpless—because feeling helpless is a sure path to stress—and identify one small action you can take to move forward.
  16. Change writing location.
  17. Read or re-read an inspirational book, such as Jane Yolen’s Take Joy, Stephen King’s On Writing, or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
  18. Tackle your energy level: Get outside, move around, drink water.
  19. Revisit your successes. I keep a special folder in my email client for messages that encourage–a thank you email from a teacher after a school presentation, an effusively complimentary note from a client, acceptance letters, thanks from critique group friends, fan mail*–things I can revisit to remember that someone out there thinks my work is worthwhile.
  20. Take a smaller bite of the pie. If you’re overwhelmed by the size of a project, try tackling one aspect of it at a time. Instead of working on a REVISION, work on plot continuity, or development of a single character’s or the tension of a single scene.
  21. Switch gears: if you’re writing fiction, work on a poem instead. If you’re stuck on a blog post, try writing an essay. The trick is to discover success somewhere else, so keep this one short and sweet, so you can carry the momentum back to your original project.
  22. Revisit why you write. Who is your audience? What do they care about? What are your trying to give them? State your writing purpose in a sentence or two and use that to focus your writing energy.
  23. Take a break. Is it possible your discouragement is a symptom of burnout? Maybe you need time to rest and recharge.
  24. Or maybe you need to refill your creative well (another side-effect of burnout).
  25. Give yourself more mental, physical, or emotional space.
  26. Work with a coach to discover the source of your discouragement or to brainstorm ideas for improving your writing routine.**

For more suggestions, check out these links:

*Yes, I’ve received fan mail. Three pieces, thank you very much, and I treasure every one :-)

**You know I had to include this one, right? You’d be surprised how a writing coach can help you identify creative obstacles, identify lies you might be telling yourself, identify ways you can be more gentle with your creative side–as well as ways to be more disciplined, improve your follow-through, or tackle unrealistic expectations,

What about you? What helps you get past discouragement and keep writing? Please share in the comments!

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In case you missed it, I’ve been writing about how writers can collaborate with others (writers, readers, spouses, fans) to supercharge their creative process. You can read previous posts here and here. If you’re working with other people, coordination is key   e_monk, Flickr There’s no question about it: collaboration has its downsides. It’s tough […]

Comments

  1. says

    Great advice, Cheryl! I have bookmarked this for future reference. I have been particularly applying three of your suggestions the past two months: journaling, writing something different like a poem and reading! All do help. :)

    • says

      Hi Joanna–what amazes me is that these things help even when they don’t feel like they’ll help. Glad you ID’d some strategies that work for you!

  2. says

    I don’t like to stop writing altogethe (although I have been known to do so!), but I definitely find that switching projects helps.

    • says

      I’m with you–if I stop writing altogether, it depresses me :P. Changing projects can often give me a new surge of energy and inspiration. Sometimes, it gives me inspiration for the old project, because I’m no longer trying so hard.

  3. says

    Some great ideas for writers to try here.

    Personally, I go for a long walk, with my camera if possible, The muse usually returns.

    Your point on changing location is also a good idea.

    Maria

    • says

      Ooh, I love the idea of taking along your camera. Looking through a camera lens helps me to see the world in a different (and better)way, which is always a mood-booster.

  4. says

    This is a fabulous list, and each one could be its own blog post.

    I’m with Maria. For me, getting outside for a walk just about always does the trick.

    And yes, I was looking for you to mention working with a coach! But #10, reaching out to writing friends, can also be hugely helpful. Just talking through your stuck place with someone who listens well and understands the process can be a great creative lubricant! A couple of the main differences between doing that with a friend vs. a coach are the quality of the listening and the expectation that it’s going to be all about you. :)

    • says

      :) I LOVE the post you link to. Getting outside always inspires me, too, and I’ve gotten over the habit in the past years. There’s always “too much to do.” This year, I’ve been working on getting out more. It reminds me that I used to take creativity hikes every time I got stuck on a story.

  5. says

    Great tips here, Cheryl (I totally agree with you on “Revisit your successes”) — and thanks so much for the link to my post! :-)

    • says

      Hi Ali, my pleasure! Thanks for such a great post to share :).

      Revisiting successes helps me not to take rejections personally. Obviously, I’m doing something right, or I wouldn’t have my “brag folder” to visit. Sometimes I need that boost to shut down negative thinking!

  6. says

    Great ideas, Cheryl. Sometimes I go back and read something I’ve written some time ago, and think “Did I really write that?” (It’s a good idea to pick something you love for this exercise.) That’s a great boost.

    I do some of my best thinking in the shower — one ends up with great ideas and a squeaky clean writer!

    • says

      LOL,I thought you meant “Did I really write that?” in a *bad* way at first. Yeah, picking something really GOOD to review is a great confidence booster.

  7. Zinedine says

    I’m not a writer, but going out to fresh air make always wonders to my brain.

    • says

      Of course you’re a writer! You blog :) I think most of us are required to be writers in our lives, whether as a full-time official profession or as part of some other work. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. says

    The Pazzles Inspiration Cutter – Why it is a Great Scrapbooking Die Cutting Machine! TIG Welding Torch – Which One Do I Need? Information On Welding …pazzles

  9. Ronifelle says

    I admit, it is never easy to write especially when your mind is totally blank! But, it sometimes depends on your will and inspiration…

  10. says

    I’m going to print this list and staple it to my forehead. Or maybe just to the inside of my notebook. :) I think, for me, the critical strategies are #20 and #24. In the first case, it’s too easy sometimes to let the entirety of a writing project smother me with dread. I constantly need to remind myself to break things down, take it step by step, and just be patient.

    In the second case, sometimes I need to walk away, do something entirely different, preferably something that involves other people, action, and NO COMPUTER. Our muses like to be kept entertained and engaged–they get bored and sullen when we don’t take them out for day or night on the town!

    • says

      No kidding! I’ve been reading the book Imagine and the author says that sometimes we have to turn *off* our left brain in order for the right brain to engage and provide those critical insights. I tend to beat my head against a problem waaay past the point of usefulness when, as you say, sometimes I just need to take a break and amuse the muse, so to speak. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. says

    Winter blahs bring about discouraging thoughts . Hey, maybe I’ll write a script that takes place in spring…with gardens & flowers and…hey, thanks for this :)

  12. says

    Thank you for this on a day (oh wait, was that week/month?) when I really needed a little bolstering. Suffering doubt that success in non-fiction, subject-matter expert market means I should just stay there and forget dreams of fiction, children’s writing. Plus, my pirate (character) is giving me the silent treatment, at the moment.

    Thanks again!

  13. says

    Oh yeah, I know *exactly* what you mean. When you’re successful in one area, it’s easy to wonder if that’s where you’re meant to be…but it probably just means that there are more straightforward opportunities in that area! I’ve had a lot of success in nonfiction writing and LOVE to write it, but I also have to be careful that I don’t let go of my fiction-writing dreams. I’m so glad this was encouraging, and may your pirate character confide in you soon!

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