Charged with writing an article on the topic of “inspiration on demand,” I considered the usual suspects—those tips and tricks that help spur my own creativity. I thought of all the wonderful sources for inspiration—such as this website’s Writer Igniter page or the Prompt-a-Palooza writing prompts I offer on my own blog each Monday. I thought of craft books and articles, photographic prompts, musical prompts, and so on. For every creative race we long to run, there would appear to be a helpful starter gun just waiting to be fired.
So, why then, do we continue our search for creative motivation? Why don’t we all slap down thousands of words every week? Hell, every day?
With a big beautiful world around us, with a buffet of human behavior both exhilarating and exasperating, with sociopaths and jet planes and weird stalk-eyed creatures slipping along our ocean floors, why do we keep coming back to the creative well as though we’ve never enjoyed a single taste?
Because, it occurs to me, it’s not really a lack of inspiration that keeps us from going at it. It’s a lack of real demand.
Now, of course, some people create each day because they simply burn to do so. Their psyches feed the furnaces of their creative engines, and they just chug along, morning and night, fever-eyed, muttering, in a rhapsody borne of their own need to put something of themselves on the page (or screen).
Cheers to those folks. We’re just going to leave them in their happy, productive bubbles, serving as their own perpetual motion machines like those weird little “drinking birds” my parents had in the seventies. Chances are they’re not reading this article, anyway.
But when I think of the most productive periods in my creative life and in the creative lives of those I know, they’re often tied to the very real and pragmatic end of, say, a deadline with the promise of a check to be delivered, a doctorate bestowed, or a contract signed. Let’s face it: make the demand compelling enough, and eventually most of us will get out of our own ways and create.
While I can’t offer checks or doctorates (well, I could, but both would be of dubious value), I can offer a few pragmatic ways to create tangible demand. Note that these ideas won’t necessarily speak to a demand for a particular type of work—a book of poetry or a completed novel. They may ask you to create outside of your particular genre or interest. However, creating on demand, where a real demand exists, can be a powerful first step to getting out of one’s own way, to easing up on white-knuckled perfectionism, and to help you get into the mode of creating so that it becomes a matter of inevitability rather than some kind of esoteric magic.
Here, then, are a few ideas for creating demand first, inspiration later . . .
- Volunteer to create a newsletter for an organization whose efforts you want to support. Or at least an ongoing column in that newsletter.
- Volunteer to create a weekly or monthly blog post for a favorite website in need of content.
- Meet friends in a coffee shop (or bar) once a week for “inspiration night.” Give yourselves a prompt and a word count. No one leaves the bar or coffee shop until EVERYONE’S created at least X number of fresh words. They don’t have to be GOOD words. They don’t have to add up to a poem or story or screenplay. But they have to be new and created on the spot. Share your words for the purposes of accountability but don’t critique or comment on them. Just commemorate having written.
- Sign a “monthly writing contract” with a friend or two. Write each other paychecks every month. Agree on a significant enough amount that it will hurt if you have to write a check without receiving an equivalent one in return. Make your monthly output goal realistic, but DON’T let each other off the hook if either fails to meet his/her goal.
- Or, if you’re a glutton for negative reinforcement, create a “consequences contract” with a friend, where you hand over a signed check in an amount that will cause you some pain. If you fail to deliver your agreed upon word count at the end of any month, that check gets sent to a person or organization you truly loathe, and you have to fork over another check.
- Enter at least one or two poetry, essay, or short fiction contests per month. Make sure the deadlines challenge you to plow through either significant editing or creating (or both) of new works. Ask a writing partner to keep you honest, and make sure there are repercussions for failing to deliver. Keep a record of those contests you’ve entered, and share those with a friend or in a more public arena.
- Create a “writing helpathon” and have folks pledge pennies per word you create for one month. Donate the proceeds to a charity or organization whose aims you truly support. Mark your progress publicly along the way.
- Collaborate with other types of artists to create a project together—something with a tangible deadline that you’ll move toward as a team. Find a twenty-four hour film project in your town, for example, and volunteer to write a screenplay if others will act and direct. (Or, if you’re super multi-talented, do it all.) Or find a group of friends to go to open mics with each week with a pledge to perform ONLY new material.
Of course, there are “workarounds” and cheats for any of these ideas. Friends and family can always enable and excuse one another. So, it’s best to seek out partners to whom a responsibility to deliver really MEANS something to you.
Be smart about the amount of demand you take on, but stretch to do more than you think you can. Make sure it will hurt you or, even better, someone else, if you fail to deliver. Get into the groove of creating for a purpose beyond your own gratification or eventual reward. Find ways to bolster and be an inspiration to others, and chances are, your own inspiration will come.
LORIN OBERWEGER is a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter with almost twenty-five years experience in publishing. Her company, Free Expressions, offers intensive, deep craft workshops nationwide, including the acclaimedBreakout Novel Intensives with literary agent Donald Maass, Your Best Book, and Story Masters. She’s also known for her one-on-one story development weekends for writers of all genres of fiction.
Lorin’s students and clients have millions of books in print and have been published by imprints of HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and other mainstream and independent presses. They have also gained representation with some of the industry’s leading literary agents.
An award-winning author, Lorin’s work has appeared in well over one-hundred periodicals, including THE MONTSERRAT REVIEW, STORYQUARTERLY, and the bestselling regional anthology FRENCH QUARTER FICTION.
Along with New York Times bestselling author Veronica Rossi, Lorin recently signed a deal with Harper/William Morrow for a three-book New Adult series, BOOMERANG.