Scrolling through my Facebook feed, a post caught my eye. A fellow writer wrote that for weeks she had been writing every day, producing quality blog posts without any difficulty. Then, she took a short break from writing daily, and the spell was broken. She wrote that coming back to writing after the break had been tough. She could no longer produce the quality work as easily as she had before and now found it difficult to find inspiration.
This is a common problem for writers of any kind. The general consensus among masters of the craft is that daily writing – sitting your butt in your chair every day and putting words on a page no matter their quality – is key to success in writing. Reading, too, is key; but that’s a matter for another post.
“If you want to be a writer,
you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
When we face the blank page and feel we have nothing to write or what we do write is shit, we are facing self-imposed obstacles. We worry that our lack of inspiration means we have nothing left to say worth reading. We worry that our lacklustre writing is proof we’re no good. We fear, we fret, and we falter.
Just when we should push through and keep going, we throw in the towel. And, as with the Facebook post lady, the spell is broken. We’ll have to face the blank page again the next day and those same obstacles.
So what do we do? How can we hurdle over those obstacles and get to writing consistently without the crippling negative chatter of our inner censor pulling us down?
The biggest obstacles we face are self-imposed but surmountable. We are afraid. We fear a lack of inspiration and shitty writing. We are terrified of what we think that signifies. But we can get over this. And to do that, we have to write.
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”
William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
I know, that’s the problem in the first place, right? But the problem is actually what’s preventing you from making a habit of writing daily. So, how can we tackle those fears and get to a place where writing every day is normal and enjoyable?
We use the techniques of accomplished writers who know the reality of the obstacles we all face but have managed to find ways to push through and create a habit of writing daily in spite of them.
Shitty First Drafts
In one of my favourite writing books, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says: “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”
Your fear of writing something shitty is preventing you from writing anything at all. You aren’t the only writer to have written less than perfect prose and you won’t be the last. Writing is a creative activity, it isn’t going to pour out of you fully formed and ready to go. It’s a craft, you’re going to need to get down some rough sketches first. Then, like a painter, you come back and build it up, layer upon layer, until you have something you’re ready to release into the world.
Allow yourself shitty first drafts. Tell yourself when you sit down to write, ‘this is the first draft and it can be shitty’. Create the space you need to get words and ideas out onto the page without fretting. At this point, it doesn’t matter if it’s any good, you’re just opening the tap. You’ll come back later to edit, pick it apart, or completely discard what you’ve written. That’s OK – that’s the process. You’re just getting the juices flowing. What’s important is giving yourself room to write without judgment.
“You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly…
Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump,
a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”
Julia Cameron’s morning pages is a great strategy to get words on a page without having the pressure of something specific to write like a blog post or your novel. You don’t need to be inspired, you just write. Morning pages
You create a daily habit of writing, a place to start your day. You open the tap and allow that initial brown water to flow out onto your morning pages so you get to the clear, good water by the time you’re ready to start working.
Cameron makes a point of noting that these pages can be positive or negative. Don’t be afraid to whine and complain, don’t filter yourself. If it’s in your head, let it out. These pages are for your eyes only. Get all that brain chatter out of your head and into your journal so you can move on to creating without distractions. And you never know, you might find some gems in there.
Hear, in her own words, how Cameron describes morning pages and what you should do with them. The ‘morning pages’ ritual has been a revelatory practice for many creatives.
Shitty First Drafts and Morning Pages are the strategies of two accomplished writers. I wanted to share one more strategy with you that works for me. Whether you’re into photography or not, as bloggers or digital content creators, we all have to find that perfect image to complement our words. In doing so, I discovered that photography can also be great inspiration for words.
I use Unsplash for my blog photography. The images are stunning and creative. The photographers contributing to Unsplash are talented, creative, and inspiring. I often go to the site and just scroll through the images because I love photography. And when you have that much photographic art in one place it’s almost impossible for it not to spark ideas.
Other forms of art can be inspiring and it’s a great idea to explore other mediums. Check out other artists, to appreciate them but also to see what they conjure inside you.
In his book, Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon talks about the importance for every artist to look to other artists and the world around them for inspiration.
“Every artist gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
The honest artist answers, “I steal them.”
Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself when you feel uninspired is go do something else. Go enjoy others’ art or go try other forms of art for yourself, and I’m certain you’ll return to writing with renewed energy and fresh ideas.
In becoming a prolific writer, don’t dwell on being perfect, allow yourself space and freedom to write badly. Don’t be silenced by a blank page, find other stimuli or perspectives to help coax out words. The most important aspect of being a prolific writer is to write. Remove th
“Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day.”
Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
If all else fails, remember the other half of great writing advice: read.
“If you can’t write, read. If you can’t read, walk. Or walk and read, then write.”
Disclaimer: Some of the book links in this post are affiliate links and if you click through them to make a purchase I’ll earn a commission. I am grateful for your support and thank you for reading.