Find Inspiration to Start Writing — and Keep Writing

sunflower-1421011_1280Like many writers, I am often intimidated by a blank page. It’s like staring at an artist’s canvas or a vacant room in a home that’s ready to be redecorated. But a blank page doesn’t have to be feared. Embrace it for the opportunity it is to express yourself, and the writing will come more naturally. 

Some say the hardest part of being a writer is getting into a routine and writing regularly. Others say they draw a blank and don’t know what to write about. The empty space, they claim, is inside their own head. To get past both obstacles, here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned to develop a regular writing practice.

Do it first thing in the morning. Just like exercise or meditation, writing first thing in the morning can help you get it out of the way. Some people swear by completing morning pages – writing continuously without stopping for three pages. For some, morning pages helps remove the toxic thoughts and feelings that have built up over the previous 24 hours so your brain can operate more freely and creatively. Others choose a method like “500 words a day” to establish consistency in their practice. Whichever method you choose can help you become more productive. Once it’s done, you can move on to other tasks, and you can feel good about your accomplishment.

Schedule it in your calendar. If you don’t have time to write first thing in the morning, schedule time on your calendar for later in the day. Make an appointment with yourself to sit at a desk or computer. Set aside at least one hour, and just write. This time is for you, just like scheduling a massage or haircut. Putting it in your calendar shows you are serious and committed about giving your writing attention.

Skip the computer. I find it helpful to keep a notebook for writing. It’s where I jot down story ideas, webinar notes and bullet points for blog posts. It’s also where I write rough drafts for my stories. Then I will turn on the computer to do a more complete second draft. If you turn on the computer first, you’re more likely to edit as you write. Avoid doing this because it slows you down. Get your ideas down on paper first, then go back and rewrite and edit.

To keep inspiration flowing, check out these ideas to stay inspired and kickstart your creativity.

Play writing games. I keep a small plastic container filled with slips of paper. On each paper slip is a word. It can be anything – car, dog, photograph, telephone, mystery – you name it. There’s about 100 slips of paper in this container. Whenever I’m feeling stuck with writer’s block, I pull out three slips and reveal the words. Then I write a very short story, a few paragraphs, making sure to include those three words. If you want to challenge yourself further, choose five words. The more words you choose at random, the more challenging it becomes to include them all in your writing.

Once I’ve used a word, I set it aside. I’ll do several stories in one sitting, so I will set aside words I’ve already used during that session. At the end of that full session, all the words are put back to reuse in a future writing session.

Keep a writer’s journal. I started keeping a writer’s journal earlier this year. It’s where I keep story and blog ideas as I think of them. It’s where I keep notes from webinars and workshops I attend. If I come across a quote that I like, something that moves me deeply, I add that to my journal too. Any miscellaneous idea I have about writing and creativity I add to my journal. When my ideas run dry, I turn to my journal and look for inspiration.

Find quotes that inspire you. We’ve all seen the memes on Facebook. Some are funny; others are meant to inspire and make us feel better about ourselves. We find one we like and share it with our friends on Facebook. Is there a quote that resonates with you? Does it remind you of a situation or person in your life? Use it to write why it has meaning for you. Another potential source of writing inspiration: tea bag tags found on Yogi tea.
Similar to the memes you see on social media, the sayings on these tea tags are often profound and thought-provoking, ideal fodder for writing inspirational essays.

Seek out writing prompts. There are numerous resources available about writing – essay books, magazines and websites – that offer writing challenges and prompts. Writer’s Digest has an online prompt tool you can download to kickstart your writing. Many books about writing contain brief exercises to get you started thinking about writing. For example, “Crafting the Personal Essay” by Dinty W. Moore contains several essay writing exercises and writing prompts to keep you writing for a long time.

Find a writing buddy. I’m not talking about collaboration here. I’m talking about creating a support system for yourself. If you have a friend who also writes for a living, join together as a support system. You can talk about story ideas, exchange writing tips, critique each other’s work, etc. Having a writing buddy keeps you motivated and accountable for your progress, just like having a workout buddy. You don’t want to slack off knowing your friend is pushing you to succeed. This is especially helpful if you are shy about sharing your work with others and are reluctant to join a writers’ group. All it takes is one person to share your writing efforts with to keep you writing day in and day out.

Using one, two or any combination of these ideas can give you the confidence you need to start writing – and keep writing.

What I Learned from Taking a Career Break

nightNo matter what kind of job you have or how long you’ve been in that job, sooner or later you are bound to feel that impulse to get up and leave it behind. The wild blue yonder comes calling, or more likely, you’re just tired of the nine-to-five grind. The work no longer appeals to you. Or you have accomplished everything you wanted to professionally. What’s next?

That’s what happened to me a few years ago. I walked away from a job that I was happy with at first, but after eight years at the same organization and a change in CEO, I knew it was time to change course. But I honestly had no idea what that course was. Fortunately (and later as it turned out, unfortunately – but that’s another story), I had an opportunity to buy a yoga studio business. It seemed the perfect solution to my career stalemate dilemma. I figured if I could try that for a year and see how it worked out. If it didn’t, I could always return to a corporate gig.

Millions of baby boomers like myself have made a similar shift in their careers. But the decision to walk away from a job that no longer serves you should not be taken lightly. There are numerous factors to consider when making a major change, and there’s no guarantee that a job in the corporate sector will be waiting for you if things don’t turn out or you change your mind.

First of all, do you have the financial security to take time off? If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, taking a career break is probably not a wise choice. Maybe you have a cushion in your savings or your suddenly came into some money after your favorite uncle passed away that allows you to take time out of your career. If your spouse works, you may have the emotional and financial support to make a go of this lifestyle change.

According to the website Career Shifters, a career break should not be confused with a career sabbatical. A career break is an actual break from your career. You can take as much time as you need to figure out your next career move, whether it’s going back to school, traveling around the world or caring for an elderly parent, but there is no job to go back to. You are on your own.

In a career sabbatical, you negotiate an arrangement with your employer that allows you to take extensive time off while they keep your job open. The amount of time you take can be anywhere from one month to up to six months. But the employer cannot fire you and you have the option to return to your job.

Considering a career break? Here’s how to make the most of your break so you get back to being you and prepare for the next phase of your career.

* Spend time with family. Of course, the best reason to take a career break is to spend more time with your loved ones. For some, too much work and travel have taken them away from their kids and they miss seeing them grow up. For others, an ailing parent calls for more time to take care of their needs. Whatever your situation, nothing can replace the time you spend with people you care about most.

* Volunteer at your favorite charitable organization. Is there a cause you believe in? Is there an organization that needs someone with your skills and experience?  Seek out organizations whose objectives align with your personal beliefs. For example, as a breast cancer survivor, I volunteered a few hours each month at the local hospital where I was treated, doing miscellaneous administrative tasks to prepare for upcoming events and education programs they sponsored. It was a wonderful way to get to know other volunteers, some who were also breast cancer survivors, and to give back to the hospital that provided great care for me during my treatment.

* Declutter or redecorate your home. During my time off, I slowly and systematically, weeded out excess clothes and items I didn’t use anymore. It has had a cleansing effect, not only on my small condo, but on my emotional well-being. The more stuff I got rid of, the lighter and freer I felt. I also repainted my living room, and the change in décor helped spark my creativity, gave me peace of mind and brightened up my home environment. A little housecleaning and redecorating can do wonders for your emotional energy.

* Take a class. During my career break, I indulged my passion for writing by taking several writing classes. Taking these classes not only challenged me to delve more deeply into my own psyche, it prompted me to learn a different style of writing than I was used to. If writing doesn’t interest you, try gardening, photography or learn to speak Italian – whatever your soul calls you to do. Who knows? Your newfound hobby could turn into your next career.

* Practice yoga and meditation. I went through a difficult time in 2014 and yoga kept me sane while I dealt with several challenging situations during that time. Yoga was also a spring board toward more healthful habits and led to more intense workouts as I regained my physical strength and stamina. Meditation, even for only 10 minutes per day, helped me to calm the voices in my head

* Travel. If you’ve got the time and the savings, go wherever your heart desires. I didn’t do a lot of traveling, only a couple of short trips to visit friends, but the change of scenery gave me a fresh perspective on my problems and cleared my head so I could face challenges more effectively.

* Visit an old friend. During my break, I went to Florida to visit an old childhood friend whose daughter was battling cancer. By reconnecting during a time of crisis in both of our lives, it helped both of us gain perspective and helped us laugh at a time when we needed a little laughter in our lives.

* Become a tourist in your own town. Is there somewhere in your town that you’ve heard about but never visited – a museum, a restaurant or other special landmark? A career break is the perfect time to explore these places.

* Indulge in a hobby. Whether you love painting, attending concerts, writing poetry or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, a career break gives you ample time to indulge in your favorite hobby. Who knows? Maybe that hobby can turn into your next great business idea.

When used wisely, career breaks can clear the heart, mind and soul of past challenges and disappointments, so you are ready to face the next phase of your life with greater clarity, strength and sense of purpose.

Revising Our Lives

butterfly

“In writing and in life, you can always revise.” — Unknown

A colleague shared this provocative quote with a group of publishing professionals nearly 20 years ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. I don’t know if she came up with this pithy concept herself, or if she repeated it from another source. In any case, it resonated with me then, and still does today.

Life is like writing. When I write, if I don’t like what I’ve written, I can delete it, change it, or add to it to fit my constantly evolving perspective of life. Our lives are in a constant state of revision – from friendships, family, jobs, residences, bank accounts and hobbies. Sometimes that change comes naturally, like graduating from high school or moving into our first apartment. Other times, our lives are suddenly uprooted by life circumstances that we have no power over – a cancer diagnosis, a spouse’s death, a job loss.

As humans, most of us are creatures of habit. We prefer things to stay the same, especially when it suits our purposes. Many of us prefer to create our own life revisions rather than have it forced upon us. That is understandable. We all want to feel we are in control of our circumstances. Most of the time we are, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

It’s one thing to proactively seek out ways to revise our lives for the better, but how do we respond when these changes are forced on us? It is accepting the change forced on us — by life, Mother Nature, even our own families — that is difficult, because it prompt us to adapt to situations that were not of our own making. Yet, that is the challenge of living this life.

Life calls for us to be adaptable to change. We must go with the flow of life. No matter in what form that change occurs, no matter how difficult ensuing transition occurs, in the long run our lives are revised for the better because of it. We must be willing to accept life’s revisions on its terms, so we can learn and grow from the experience and become better human beings.