As a writer, I am long on delivery, short on inspiration. Tell me what to write about and I’m off like a shot. Leave me to my own devices without a topic or a deadline and I can find an amazing amount of suddenly critical distractions. Some people are the other way around, having lots of ideas and some impediment or other to proceeding through to completion. Rather than flogging yourself for your own personality, use this self-knowledge to do your bidding.
I get past my idea-less idiosyncrasy by gleaning ideas from previous blogs (I keep a running list of ideas handy for such future blank-pages), or if I’m lucky, from a question or a direct request from a reader or client. (I love it when people tell me their grammar pet peeves.) But that only works for blogs. What about the other stuff I want to write? What about that Great American Novel? Or even that chapbook of poetry? How can I stay productive in those arenas where there’s no reader or deadline to keep me motivated?
The first trick, I think, is to recognize whether you are reactive orcreative. I am reactive. I can take just about anything and turn it into prose. Yes, I loved term paper assignments that were fairly narrow in scope. I like the research, I like organizing my thoughts into some sort of argument or discovery, and I like feeling helpful in answering the question at hand.
If you are creative, you come up with lots of ideas but aren’t motivated by the implementation. That part of it, once you get past the initial flush of excitement with the project, seems like drudgery. You probably have a lot of projects begun but not finished.
So reactives need to find ideas to implement and creatives need to find perseverance. I suppose if you’re lucky, the two types are in a close relationship and can spur one another to completion. I suppose reactives might feel like they’re doing all the work in collaborations within such a relationship, so maybe that’s not the best solution.
I’ve told you that I look for inspiration in my own work and from reader comments. I also troll related blogs and Web sites and flip through books in my own library. Sometimes, I find a specific subject—there’s a frequently asked question or heavy coverage on some topic. But more usually, I find my own subject or question as I read. Sometimes I already know the answer, other times, I use some trick (like the who/whom he/him thing) to help me, but I don’t really know the rule until I look for it. My most inspired pieces are when I look for coverage and can’t find any.
In my less public work, like my novel and cookbook, I have to put myself on a schedule. Oh sure, there are some days when I just can’t wait to get to it, but most of the time, I can find a lot of really good excuses. So I use a schedule to keep me honest. It can be a gentle schedule, like Saturdays from 9 until , or it can be rigid, like every weekday from until 8 in the morning.
The schedule doesn’t always work—sometimes I sit looking at that blank page and blinking cursor feeling defeated. I get past it by using a spin-off on the “Write What You Know” theory called “Know Who You Are.”