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  • In Search of Inspiration: How 5 Brilliant Authors Do It and How I’ve Found it Again
This blog was featured on 10/28/2019
In Search of Inspiration: How 5 Brilliant Authors Do It and How I’ve Found it Again
Written by
Caitlin Evans
October 2019
Written by
Caitlin Evans
October 2019

As I sit down to write this, I can’t help marveling at the irony.

Writing about our quests for inspiration and overcoming writer’s block while suffering from said lack of inspiration – odd how our minds work.

I should really be writing something else – but that’s not quite the way my mind wants to go today, so in true terrified, self-conscious and insecure author form, I follow it where it wants to go. Like a dog walking its owner, I often find.

The last time I couldn’t commit more than five words to paper at a time, this is what worked. I let myself write about anything I wanted to, except the thing I needed to get done.

But I’m jumping the gun here.

What I really set out to do is explore how writers more accomplished than myself get things going. And while I was compiling my own “read this when stuck” list, I randomly decided to share it.

What you're about to read is a bit of my late Sunday ramblings. I do hope you both enjoy it, find it useful, and will also let me know what you do when the writing gets tough.


Neil Gaiman – Leave it

My all-time favorite short story writer advises leaving it alone for a few days, and going out into the world to do other things. Then, once the mind has had some time to reset, reading your work again, editing and changing what needs to be changed. This is a process that will bring us back to the source of inspiration, buzzing about our ideas again.

I find this strategy works well only if you are actually determined to come back to your work and pick it up again. Unless you have the discipline to do that, your words might never get closure.


Maya Angelou – Just do it

Oh, if only there was a way to let Maya Angelou know just how much she has shaped my life. I remember watching one of the excerpts from her interviews with Oprah on YouTube a few years back – the one where she explains how to live your life in the most heartwarming and true super soul sister style.

And when an author of her magnitude advises writing even when you don’t feel like it, even when it hurts, even when all you produce is absolute rubbish – I take her advice and see where it takes me, no questions asked.

That’s sort of what this exercise is – I’ve found that I can often write about something else, which tends to be a good way to keep me from completely falling off the face of the earth, and burying myself too deep in someone else’s words.


Stephen King – Dream it up

As the thing I am supposed to be writing is a review of Night Shift, of course I asked Google what Mr. King does to find inspiration. When I read that he finds a lot of it in dreams (and then he goes on to recount a dream about binding a book in the author’s skin), I began to wonder – do horror writers always dream of blood and gore?

I guess this is excellent advice if your dreams are cinematic and would lend themselves well to storytelling. Mine I either can’t remember, or are merely nightmarish constructions my subconscious decides to serve me as a great way to remind me what I fear the most, and what I have not had time to do yet. So, no reaching for the dream world for me.

On the other hand, taking a nap in the middle of the day might not be a bad course to follow. What if that’s the time when we dream of better plot twists and alternate endings?


Ray Bradbury – Abandon ship

In a speech I came across by accident, I discovered some of the best advice a writer can give or receive: if you are struggling, you are going the wrong way.

A lot of what we write is neither planned, nor does it have a specific course to follow. We just write because we think it’s good, or we think it’s bad but let’s get through with it, and then we get to a place where we never hoped to find ourselves, and have no idea how to get out.

Ray Bradbury’s advice on abandoning these avenues – even though they will cost you time and effort and words and paper – is exciting in what it suggests: dump it and move on. Are we really allowed to do that? Will our egos let us?


Mark Twain – Outline it

A guest lecturer on my master’s course told us the famous method Mark Twain used – break things down, outline significant parts of the novel, make things more manageable by making them smaller.

True, he was trying to teach us something called “academic writing”, which I never really got the hang of. I can replicate form, of course I can, but I’m not really into someone telling me what my substance should be.

But I digress.

What I find very useful in Twain’s method is the writing things down so you can view them dispassionately part. I'm not a huge fan of the outlining, though. I seem to make it into a less creative and a more mundane task than is good for me, and the exercise quickly loses its purpose.


How I do it: 3 personal tips

Having read several works from the above authors, I’ve chosen them as my guiding lights for one very simple reason: I love their work. And if I could turn myself into one of them, I probably would have years ago.

But what I have learned in the meantime is that replicating another author is nothing but drowning your own voice. And that’s not only counterproductive and destructive at its very core, it’s also painful.

When looking for inspiration, I turn to one of the three things below, and they seem to do the job well:


I travel

This is a very personal source of inspiration, but it’s my main hack.

They say travel is great for the mind and soul, and as a writer, I find it enriches my prose and fires up my storytelling furnaces.

I make travel work for me by always doing two things: first, I travel insanely light. I’ve discovered packing cubes are a miracle for space saving, and with them I get to take one bag everywhere, and still have plenty of outfit choices. Secondly, I take huge amounts of photos and write down what I am feeling and thinking for each. Then I collage these together, and I have about a dozen ideas per image I can use.

I take pictures of people, animals, houses, clouds, outfits, accessories, anything. And my characters are all born from this symbiosis of moving outside of myself and adding a personal touch to each image.


I leave it

But – I never leave my work when I’m stuck. I only leave it when it’s brilliant and I want to keep writing for months on end.

If I leave my desk when it’s all going nowhere, that’s the emotion I take away, and getting back is hellish. When I leave just as something insane is about to happen, I keep thinking about it on some level at all times, I sleep better, I leap out of bed, and when I do come back, it’s always with a joyful heart and fingers ready to bleed for my art again.


I write about anything

I used to have a ‘contest’ with a friend when we were teenagers: each would come up with a word and assign it to the other person, and they would have to come up with 5000+ words of pure story in return. We later also started giving each other genres. I remember a particularly grueling science fiction piece for “monotone”.

If you can get yourself into the habit of treating every idea as a potential story, your skill and your craft and your art will all hugely benefit from it. Why should we reserve our biggest words for our biggest pieces, when we can teach ourselves to be so much better every day? 


Thank you for taking the time out of your writing day to spend time in my own. I hope something has sparked in you and you are now looking for the pen and paper.

If not, do let me know how you overcome your inspiration funks and block anxieties. Can’t wait to read about them!

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  • Enjoyed this article and also reading about the games you and your friend played centered around writing, especially "...coming up with 5000+ words of pure story....

    The processes of Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury and Mark Twain are closer to my own way of starting a project.

  • Raine Fraser Writing

    I'm certainly glad you decided to share your Sunday ramblings (which are mighty cogent for a ramble, but let's stay on point, shall we?) These are all good pieces of advice and most of them are tricks I've too learned work for me. (Not outlining, so much; although my current project could probably benefit from at least a loose one.) A fluid combination of writing even when it's a struggle and walking away for a bit work for me most of the time. I've also been very inspired lately by taking time out every day to read for pleasure. Seems obvious, but it gets a different part of my brain working and very often unlocks whatever is shut up. I also give myself the weekends off. That used to be the bulk of my time to write and when I left paid work to pursue writing full-time I wrote 7 days a week. For a while. Until I realized I had another life and needed to consciously put myself in the path of other experiences. And this weekend, for example, any number of scenarios for my current project knocked at the door. I told them, very sweetly, I was glad they stopped by but I would see them on Monday. And there they were, patiently waiting. Terrific article. Thanks very much.