Writing Without Inspiration

It's easy to write when you feel inspired -- but what about those times when you don't? When the deadline is nearing and inspiration fails, what's a writer to do? Writer Tracey Finck shared her thoughts in a 1993 EPA workshop, excerpted here.

The following is excerpted from a 1993 EPA workshop presented by writer Tracey Finck. The workshop, "Writing Without Inspiration," discussed the difficult task of writing something worthwhile when you just don't feel like it.

by Tracey Finck

Some days I feel greatly inspired to write. My fingers can hardly keep pace with all the ideas coming out of my mind. But on other days I have to push the ideas to keep pace with my fingers, which need to keep pace with the clock. I love writing on days when I'm inspired, but I'm also learning to love it on days when I'm not inspired -- on days when I need to dig deeply and research broadly and use all my skill and creativity to collect and produce enough material to write well. I've found that these are the days when I grow not only as a writer, but as a person.

Is anyone inspired 100 percentĀ of the time they spend writing? That's a pretty tall order. Scripture was inspired. We don't know what the Scripture writers felt when they were writing, but we do know how Handel felt when he wrote the Messiah. When Handel finished the triumphant climax to the second part of the work, the Hallelujah Chorus, tears were streaming down his cheeks. "I did think I did see heaven before me and the great God Himself," he told a servant. And when the score was written he pointed to the bulky manuscript and said simply, "I think God has visited me." I'd call that inspiration -- and when I hear the Hallelujah Chorus, I feel inspired!

My experiences with inspiration are on a smaller scale. Sometimes inspiration for me is a gift of an idea. Sometimes I feel that an actual wording is inspired. I feel that God is just writing through my mind and my hands, and paragraphs come out that don't need to be revised at all.

I think we can all agree that this is the preferred way to write. If it were up to us, we would be inspired all the time. We should ask for inspiration. But we can't demand it. We should take times of inspiration as gifts. And on the other days, when we're not inspired, we should learn to write well anyhow. God is able to use the task of writing to develop our character. Think of what you could learn from a day spent writing when the writing comes with great difficulty.

You could learn:

  • Greater knowledge of your topic.
  • Research skills writing skills.
  • Discipline.
  • Time Management skills.
  • Endurance (stick-to-it-iveness).
  • Creativity (as distinguished from inspiration).
  • Experience organizing ideas.
  • Confidence in the mind and abilities that God gave you.
  • Victory over perfectionism.
  • Professionalism (a commitment to rise to the challenge every time).

These are the rewards for learning to write when it's difficult. So how do we actually do it?

Put Yourself in the Mood
Put yourself in the best frame of mind to write. For me there's nothing like a big cup of cappuccino and something chocolate to put me in the mood to write. I figure that's worth it if I can produce a good piece of writing in an evening!

Listen to uplifting music. I mentioned Handel's Messiah. Have you heard Handel's "Soulful Messiah," a black gospel version? That's very inspiring for me.

Arrange your environment. Some people really thrive on interesting piles of clutter around them. Other people function much better when there's order. If that's the case, spend 15 minutes putting your office in order and you'll think much more clearly.

You'll discover your own pattern -- the idiosyncrasies of what turns your own mind on, what gets you thinking if you're not inspired. A nurse friend of mine told me there are physiological reasons for why walking helps stimulate thinking.

Write Your Own Ideas First
As your ideas come, collect them all. I recommend you get all your own ideas on paper before you do research. My reason for this is that you may have unformed or partially formed ideas. God may be wanting to bring a unique message through. As you create on paper this can come out and will formulate itself. But if you do research right away you, may squash those ideas into the shape of other people's ideas. So get all your original ideas down first.

Use All Your Time
Think about your topic while doing mindless tasks. Agatha Christie says the best time for plotting a book is while you're doing the dishes. How about driving? How about in the shower? How about during the sermon? Lots of writers I know come up with brilliant ideas then. Here we've just been in the presence of God. We've been worshipping him and listening to his word, and we're in a great mood to be creative. So if ideas come to you, don't think you're being naughty -- write them down. Whenever you're hearing a speech or reading a book, you're looking for good quotes.

Focus Your Topic
If you're under a time deadline, ask yourself a series of editing questions to focus your creativity. The two things that shape your piece most are your audience and your purpose. So ask what your audience already knows about the subject. Do you need to define some terms for them? Can you assume a certain level of spiritual maturity or sophistication about your topic? Will they probably agree or disagree with your point? Do they care? Will they easily be offended so that you have to choose your words very carefully?

Worship First, Write Second
Understand that it's important to keep your devotional life as a higher priority than your writing. If you don't, your writing will be superficial. I recommend keeping a devotional journal. One author recommends keeping wide margins and using labels and dates. Realize that in the future this may be valuable stuff. Whatever God's doing in your life today may not apply to your writing right now, but five years from now it may. So keep this question in mind -- "how would I find this again if I needed it?"

Be a Professional, Not a Perfectionist
Let's not describe ourselves as perfectionists anymore. Let's describe ourselves as professionals. A professional rises to the challenge every time. Some challenges will stretch you, but then that's how God makes you a bigger person. I've read plenty of mediocre articles that God was able to use in my life. I've also read very well-written articles on average topics that make me say "I knew this, but it's good to be reminded." So you don't have to have a brilliant idea and a profound articulation of it every time. You just need to articulate ideas clearly -- then you can craft ordinary thoughts into readable, relevant articles.

Take pride that you've learned a lot and be humbly open to learning more. Doesn't it blow you away to know that God is more interested in you than in the writing you can do to promote His kingdom? He wants to use your writing tasks to draw you closer to him.