Several years ago I had a writer friend write to me: “I’m trying to do better at setting aside a specific time to write, but it’s still hard. I find I only write when I feel like it…but if I’m not feeling particularly inspired or in the mood to write, I don’t really discipline myself to sit down and write in spite of those feelings. How do you deal with that? How do you discipline yourself to write even when you don’t really feel like it or feel inspired? Is writing something you should only do when you get a flash of inspiration/adrenaline or is it more like a muscle that needs to be exercised consistently?”
The short answer to that sounds rather harsh. If you want to write badly enough you will make the time to write and you will write even when you don’t feel like it. You will stay at it until you get an idea and develop it into your best effort at publication.
But perhaps that isn’t very helpful. Why not try one of these suggestions?
1. Join a critique group.
Some people join a group mainly for the discipline. Members are expected to submit things for critique from time to time. These expectations keep some members writing.
How can you find a critique group to join? You may find help in Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide. Look for writers’ groups in your area by using Google or searching your local paper. Ask at a writers’ conference. Or form your own group.
But what if you can’t find a critique group?
2. Ask a friend or family member to keep you accountable.
A writer friend may be able to give more help than a non-writer friend, but a non-writer friend can still help. He can keep you accountable for how many hours you spend writing or how many articles you send away. He can ask you if you are taking the steps you need to take to progress.
3. Make clear goals.
I’ve been writing for publication for more than 30 years. In that time there were a few years when I could write very little. Raising two small children during language school was one of those times. Furlough years also upset our schedule and may leave little time for writing. But most of those years I continued to write regularly because I had clear goals. Many years I wrote one article or short story for publication every month and submitted it to an editor. I carved out a time to write and I did it, whether I felt like it or not. While I cooked meals or stood in line or drove around town I developed ideas so that I would be ready to write when the time came. That consistency was the biggest step forward for me as a writer.
If you struggle with this maybe you need to take another look at my article “Long and Short Range Goals.”
This one step may be the key to knowing what you need to write. When you don’t know anything about the market, you are aiming at an invisible goal. But if you have studied the market and identified several markets to write for, you know what those markets need. Write to meet that need.
5. Just do it.
Plant yourself in your seat on a regular basis and work until you’ve got an idea. Then keep developing it until you have an article or story.
Keep a notebook handy so that you can write ideas down as they come to you. Then make the time to develop those ideas. When I get stuck for ideas I walk around Queen’s Park. At the end I often find myself racing home to capture my ideas. Do what works for you, but keep at it even when you don’t feel like it.
If you struggle with this you may want to reread my article, “Finding Time to Write.”
I wish I had a magic answer for this problem, but it often comes down to discipline. I want to write. I feel the Lord wants me to write. So I work at capturing ideas, matching them to markets, writing and polishing my pieces and getting them in the mail.
The good news? Ideas are like muscles. The more you exercise them the more you have. If you endure the discipline of writing consistently and developing different ideas, you will probably have more ideas than you have time to develop. And ideas are the blood that keeps a writer alive.