Jack London famously wrote, “Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.”
Modern day writers have summarized it as this: You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
If the last year has taught me anything about writing, it is this hard truth. How wonderful it would be to wait for inspiration to strike and write when the muse is fully at play. But that’s neither practical nor very productive.
While I was writing my latest novel, Beyond the Tides, a worldwide pandemic struck, forcing me out of my usual rhythm of writing in coffee shops and restaurants. Shortly thereafter, my dad suffered a heart attack, and I moved in with my parents for more than a month. My writing time was suddenly replaced with precious family time. And my muse curled up for a lengthy hibernation.
Honestly, I was so shaken by my world being upended that I wanted to write about as much as I wanted to stub my big toe.
But I still had a book due. My deadline didn’t care that I’d almost lost my dad or that I no longer had the privacy of my own home. Words had to make it onto the page. Which meant, I had to pick up my club and go after inspiration. And I knew that was easier said than done.
Here are 4 ways to pick up your club even when your world feels upside down.
1. Find space for both family and your writing. After my dad’s heart attack, I was afraid of missing out on time with him. But I discovered that we didn’t need to talk to be together. I’d wake up early in the morning, help him get his coffee and cereal, and then I’d open my laptop and write while he did the daily crossword.
Writing even though I didn’t feel like it didn’t mean removing myself from my family. It simply meant finding quiet times where we could just be together. Of course, finding time to write means finding a balance too. But just because you’re writing doesn’t mean you can’t snuggle with reading kids or sip morning coffee with your spouse.
2. Ask someone you love to keep you accountable. If you’re not writing because your inspiration has vanished, ask a friend or family member to keep you accountable for half an hour or more. For me this has looked like meeting with writer friends twice a month for years. We talk over dinner and then write together. It builds community and friendship, but it also keeps us accountable to be working toward our goals and deadlines.
During the pandemic, I heard of several writer friends who would write together over zoom. They’d each stay on the call for an hour as they wrote—not talking, but being productive. Isolation can hit inspiration hard, so invite your friends to be part of your writing life.
3. Talk to someone who understands. Sometimes my emotional and mental health take a beating—as they did this last year. And that’s often why my muse hides, and my inspiration vanishes. If you find yourself in a difficult, dark place, talk to someone about it. Perhaps your doctor or a pastor or a mental health professional. Sometimes you need to borrow someone else’s club. And that’s okay.
4. Set unintimidating word count goals. When I don’t feel like writing, the idea of getting in 1,000 words is overwhelming. I start telling myself I can’t do it. But you know what I can do? I can write 200 words. And when I sit down to write 200 words, I usually write a whole lot more. But the goal isn’t the more. The goal is simply to write. Because just opening up my laptop and tapping out some words is the club I need to find that inspiration.
This last year has reminded me that even when I feel isolated or unbalanced, I can still write. And even if I don’t feel like writing, I can still write. It may not be perfect—what first draft is? But once I get started, inspiration usually finds me. Or at least something that looks remarkably like it.
Liz Johnson is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the Georgia Coast Romance series and the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, as well as a New York Times bestselling novella and a handful of short stories. She works in marketing and makes her home in Phoenix, Arizona.
Visit Liz at: https://www.lizjohnsonbooks.com/