Urgency to Write: How to Keep The Fire Burning

ur-gent adj.

1. Compelling immediate action or attention; pressing.
2. Insistent or importunate: the urgent words “Hurry! Hurry!”
3. Conveying a sense of pressing importance: an urgent message

We hear a lot about creating a sense of urgency in our writing. But do you have it in your writing life?

A recent ADOBE study showed that 8 in 10 people see unlocking creativity as vital to economic growth and nearly two-thirds consider creativity an asset to society. Yet only 1 in 4 people worldwide believe they are living up to their creative potential. Yipes. Though it’s refreshing to hear that creativity is valued, those results are frightening. And I couldn’t help but wonder how many writers feel similarly.

I’m not suggesting we run around in a “MUST WRITE” panic, as…entertaining as that might be. 😉 And I know many of you are eager go-getters who interact on social media between intense bouts of writing, or have deadlines keeping you on your toes. Regardless, I think we can all use tips and reminders when it comes to maintaining writing glee. Remember that wheeee feeling we talked about a few posts back? The following steps have helped me ignite it when the swing set seems slightly out of reach.

 10 Ways to Relight Your Writing Fire & Keep it Burning

1. Write when ideas strike, or shortly thereafter. There’s a reason ideas are illustrated by cartoon lightbulbs a la head. When they strike us, they are HOT. If we wait hours, days or longer to put them down on paper, they’re likely to fizzle out. Keep a note pad in your car, purse or workplace, or type your thoughts into your computer or phone.

2. Nurture ideas you’re excited about. It can be tempting to choose a topic or premise only because it seems profitable. But writing for (what I believe are) wrong reasons shows. I believe we should write stories because if we don’t, we might explode, stories that have us jumping out of bed in the morning. Think about the book you’ve always wanted to read, then write it.

3. If you don’t have a full-fledged story idea, start with a character, place or issue you’re revved up about. In other words, get excited about something. Don’t sit there waiting for exciting story ideas to crop up. Excitement attracts ideas; boredom nukes them. You could also try brainstorming a list—quickly—of possible ways to build on your starting point, or simply write about it until something forms. Then go to a quiet place you find inspiring and let the ideas flow.

4. Take breaks. Staring at the computer, awaiting the muse, won’t do much good. I like to use FAR—an acronym developed by author and physician, Dr. Matthew Edlund. It stands for Food, Activity, Rest. By creating a rhythm of eating, doing something active (writing, exercise, cleaning…) then something restful (walking, meditating, taking a bath…) we can feel more rested and sleep-ready at night, and sharper creatively during the day. Some of our best ideas arise when we’re away from our computers. That’s still writing, in my opinion—a vital part, at that.

5. Manage stress. I don’t much believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in life block. If we’re stuck in toxic relationships, jobs we hate or other stressful situations, our writing lives can feel like cement—unmovable or changeable. If you tend to write your feelings before you recognize them, incorporate morning pages into your routine. Julia Cameron features the exercise in her book, The Artist’s Way. Free-writing—some call it “word vomit”—first thing each morning can not only ease stress but show us how we feel. It also clears the pathway  for other writing.

6. Take a novel outing. Cameron recommends Artist Dates, or taking yourself on solo expeditions to do anything your heart desires. I take my actual projects on dates. (No, not in a delusional Lars and the Real Girl type way.) When I feel unproductive, I take my computer or notebook to parks, Starbucks or where ever for quality one-on-one time. We all need solace for our writing to soar. Pets, family members and home or office distractions can interfere. These outings work every time.

7. Interact with driven, creative friends. Chatting with fellow artists who are totally on fire for their work can light our fires. Hopefully you’ll have a similar effect on them. Simply talking about our work adds meaning and value. Just try not to do so on Twitter, Facebook and the WANA Tribe all at once, all day, or with friends who love talking about creative work, but seldom do it.

8. Do something really boring. I’ve never done this on purpose, but before I’d fully quit theatrical and fashion work, I had several jobs that required standing very still for very long periods of time, for a purpose I didn’t care about whatsoever. It took all of my might not to bust out of there and start typing.

9. Remind yourself why you’re a writer in the first place. If you love writing, you should write. Whatever led you to start putting words and stories on paper can keep you going. If not, ask yourself what has changed? Like stress, stagnancy can be a symptom of a deeper problem that needs addressing.

10. Repeat after me: I am my muse. My muse is in me. I’m a writer. I’m a writer! I MUST WRITE! Now ignore the funny expressions poised at you right now. They’re just jealous. 😉 If you want to write, you can and should. I believe that. And the more you write, the better you’ll become. Don’t judge, just write.

More ideas worth mentioning:

  • Enter writing contests.
  • Set deadlines that stick.
  • Set reasonable goals.
  • Join a quality writing or critique group, or seek coaching or counsel from a trusted agent, editor or beta-reader.
  • Get therapy. (We can all use emotional check-ins, if we can’t manage stress or stagnancy in particular.)
  • Go to a conference.
  • Take a WANA class, and join a tribe.
  • Use the buddy system, trading pages every week or month.
  • Write in short increments—give yourself at least 30 minutes each day.
  • If you’re a morning person, write first thing most days.
  • If you’re a night-owl, write first thing most nights.
  • If social media is swallowing too much of your time, take a break. Or save it for breaks.
  • Exercise. (Activity stimulates creativity.)
  • Create a mini writing retreat in your home or, if you can, away.
And check out these fantastic, inspiring posts:
Tameri Etherton: Rewriting the Ending
*******
Are you as compelled to write as your characters are to fight, overcome or win? What helps you stay motivated and on-track?
Leave a comment

70 Comments

  1. Great tips. I like to set deadlines for myself through finding submission sources, etc. This keeps me motivated to keep moving/writing.

    Reply
  2. Hi August! Word vomit is what I call it (did a whole post on that a while back). Great list, and good reminder that not all writing happens at the computer. In the shower, vacuuming, sauteing onions, and sleeping all create ideas because that’s when the mind gets to wander and plumb the ‘what if’ depths. Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
  3. Reblogged this on LE ARTISTE BOOTS and commented:
    Good advice for visual artists,too.

    Reply
  4. Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, not only wrote his words, he also ENACTED them as he pounded his typewriter. He became his story. I don’t do this with an entire book, but I do enact all scenes of dialogue, no matter how many characters are involved. If it sounds dumb and forced to me, then it will read dumb and forced, and vice versa.

    Reply
    • Great tip. Thanks!

      Reply
    • journalpulp

       /  June 21, 2012

      Thank you for the link love, August.

      “The more you write, the better you become.”

      That is unquestionably true, and if there’s one thing I’d like all aspiring writers to know it’s this: they will get better provided they keep writing. There’s this absurd notion — popular among artists primarily — that creative acts are somehow beyond the mechanical function of repetition and practice. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      A professional high-jumper I used to know once told me “good jumpers love to jump.”

      Good writers love to write. Ultimately, it comes down to that, I truly believe.

      Just incidentally, Mike Sirota, there’s a beautiful movie about Robert E. Howard that not a lot of people know of. It’s called The Whole Wide World, and it stars a very young Vincent D’Onofrio and Renée Zellweger, directed by a Canadian movie-maker named Dan Ireland. I loved it so much. It’s a bit slow and the plot is thin, but the movie is so real and wrenching. It’s set in West Texas, where Robert E. Howard lived and died, and it will give you an absolute sense for the flat pastoral landscapes and that lonesome area where they lived, the slow drives along the two-lane backroads.

      Reply
      • I agree, Ray. Passion fuels writing, which fuels growth. And the more we write, the more our fingers and brains love doing it, in my opinion. 🙂

        Your post was fantastic—a total keeper. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. I also think it’s essential to know what writing habits work best for you. I have friends who can write for ten hours straight, but I’m much more of a busy bee, buzzing from flower to flower. I write in short sprints, but if I do these sprints consistently, it adds up over the course of a week, a month, or a year. And with writing, environment can be key. Writing outdoors is by far my preference, but it’s not always feasible (too hot, too cold, too rainy, sunshine glaring on my laptop screen, an ominous nest of angry hornets buzzing overhead…), so my go-to is coffeehouses, where I’m never distracted by dirty dishes, purring cats, or Buffy marathons.

    This is a great list; thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you mentioned that, Denise. I can’t tell you how many writing “rules” I supposedly break, according to various craft books and pros… Maintaining excitement for writing doesn’t mean we should aim for writing everyday/all day or meet a certain word count—unless that floats our boat. Finding what works for us individually is probably the most important writing guideline overall. Cheers!

      Reply
  6. gingercalem

     /  June 21, 2012

    Great tips, August. Love them! I especially love the F.A.R. concept. I’d even add in a P for play. FARP for everyone. 😉

    Reply
  7. Fabulous post August!! Timely too. I’ll definitely be putting some of these into practice as I take a break from ROW80. Love that FAR tip 🙂

    Reply
  8. Excellent points all, August. While I emphasize numbers one and two these days–many of my ideas have been lost because I did not give them some kind of immediate attention–what has always worked for me is writing daily. Of late, I have developed a routine that reflects my life as it really is as opposed to scheduling my life. It is made all the difference.
    Karen

    Reply
    • I can relate to that, Karen. I was all giddy about novel #2 when requests for revisions on #1 appeared. It takes practice, I think, to tend to work that needs nurturing while still getting other work done.

      Good for you for creating an authentic routine and enjoying the benefits. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Great post with very helpful tips. My best ideas definitely come when I’m not at the computer. The Muse seems to enjoy letting them fly during my morning workouts. 🙂 And sometimes we do need to take breaks from writing, just as with everything else. It clears the head and mind and lets creativity flow again.

    Reply
    • Exercise really does boost creativity. I swear half of my writing takes place on the elliptical, while hiking or shortly after. 😉 Glad you found the post useful!

      Reply
  10. I’ve been editing but need to get some new words down. My second book is back from the editor and I have more work to do (darn and double darn) but I still need to write. it’s time.

    Reply
    • I see editing as writing, too, though I know what you mean by feeling the need to plant fresh words and stories on the page. Good luck with those revisions! I know you’ll knock ’em out of the park.

      Reply
  11. Great tips you have up here, August. I like number 7 the best. I guess I need to do it as much as I possibly can. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    Subhan Zein

    Reply
  12. Marc Schuster

     /  June 21, 2012

    I love #10, and deadlines are always a help!

    Reply
  13. mgmillerbooks

     /  June 21, 2012

    I’ve used all of these. And they work! Also, having people tell me that I can’t do something has always brought out the old “I’ll show you” attitude, which works wonders as well. This morning, my urgency was driven by fever, literal and metaphoric, to finish revisions on my latest ‘feverish’ project. Hopefully it’s not too far out. I’ll look at it again when I’m feeling ‘normal’. Ha.

    Reply
  14. Karen McFarland

     /  June 21, 2012

    August, I feel like these are the Top Ten for writers! Very encouraging post! James Scott Bell in his book, “Plot and Structure”, suggests that we write for 10 minutes a day. If we don’t do anything else, just 10 measly minutes to get the cobwebs out of the brain and write about anything you want. It works. It really is stimulating.

    Thank you August for your suggestions! I wll put them into use right away! 🙂

    Reply
  15. Kourtney Heintz

     /  June 21, 2012

    Fantastic tips here August! Recently, I was stressed about the ending of my WIP and some personal life stresses caused a neck problem. Taking a break when I was 10k away from a finished draft sucked. But I had to stop typing. Now my neck is getting better and those 3 weeks of not writing invigorated me. I am drafting 1k a day and should have my WIP done next week. 🙂

    Reply
    • That’s wonderful news, Kourtney. Our bodies and brains need rest. I bet your WIP will be better off for it! (Hopefully your neck, too. :))

      Reply
  16. Great post. Fantastic tips and I really appreciate the mention. Some days I get so wrapped up in all the marketing and social media that I forget what I love about being a writer. Thanks for the reminder!

    Reply
  17. Inspiring, August. Loved this, “Excitement attracts ideas; boredom nukes them.”

    All great tips. I use many of them, some more successfully than others. My favorite is the writer’s outing – somehow it always works for me.

    Reply
  18. I think 7 is a really good point, and as good as social media is, meeting people in real life is way better.

    As well as waiting for inspiration to strike, working consistently on something keeps your mind focused. Wait a week between writing sessions and you’ll likely have forgotten where you were up to, which will slow your progress even further.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • So true, Nigel. Meeting with creative pals in person makes connecting with them via social media more fun, too. 🙂 Thanks for the support!

      Reply
  19. Great post August! Love this “Don’t judge, just write.” The last word is interchangeable no?

    Thanks for the detailed post.

    Reply
  20. All good advice. I agree with Nigel about #7. I’m on a writing retreat of my own design (a nice way of saying I couldn’t get into a real one), and although I’m getting a lot done, I do miss the camaraderie of my writers’ group and having real people to knock ideas around with.

    Reply
    • I hear you. I started a social (in person) writers group in LA for that very reason. We don’t meet often, but it’s certainly worthwhile. Best of luck!

      Reply
  21. Number 9 is a really big one for me. As long as I remember WHY I’m writing (ya, know I like it?!) and I tell myself I’m not allowed to break my goals – then I don’t have a problem. 🙂

    Reply
  22. Love this post, August…thanks! I don’t bookmark too many blogs, because I’d have an overwhelming number of them, but this one just made the list. Very good advice. I’m going to try to incorporate several of these into my writing life (because I’m pretty well stuck at one point in a couple of WIP’s). Maybe I need to spend time in a park…that just sounds so nice. 🙂

    Reply
  23. Awesome tips, August! I love the boredom one ~ I often take ‘naps’ just so I can quiet my mind and be still for a few minutes with my ideas. It works 9 out of 10 times. The only reason it doesn’t work every time is that tenth time is usually when my husband or the kids decide they want to nap with me. And chat. Sort of defeats the purpose, but then I rewrite the ending and turn it into a great one-on-one session with them.

    I think I need to follow your advice to get out with my projects more. I love my office, but now that summer is here and the kids are home, I need somewhere they can’t find me. 😉

    Thanks so much for the shout out!

    Reply
    • Ha! I love picturing you trying to nap in quiet zone only to get chit chat-attacked. That said, I’m glad it’s the exception. 😉

      Stay well, lady! And enjoy those outings.

      Reply
  24. I’ve been feeling lately like I’m not doing my best work (no fire left, only embers), and my husband and I have talked about it and figured out it’s due to two things–not enough sleep and not enough relaxation time. As busy as I am, I’m taking baby steps (e.g. going to bed an hour earlier) to get my physical balance back. I’m already starting to notice the difference each small change makes 🙂

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you have such a supportive partner and have prioritized rest, Marcy. Rest is a tough one for me too, but the more I do it, the better off I am. Stay well. 🙂

      Reply
  25. I get the greatest ideas when I have the least amount of time to sit down and work! Dang! Good thing I can usually remember them or at least I think I do since if I don’t remember I don’t know the difference! LOL!

    Reply
  26. Running from Hell with El

     /  June 22, 2012

    The dream keeps me motivated: the dream that my story may help women who are in pain. And the thought that after all of these years, I will be able to share what means the most to me with the world: my art. Well, I guess my children and my husband matter more . . . but you know what I mean.

    Happy Friday my friend.

    Reply
  27. Great list. I totally see how the stress factor in our life can block our creativity. I’ve dealt with a lot of that recently. I am taking your advice.

    Reply
  28. FANTASTIC. I am printing this off to put right by my computer!! Great tips and tricks but I especially loved “if you don’t have a full-fledged story idea, start with a character, place or issue you’re revved up about.” AMEN. I also loved your suggesting of a novel outing…
    Squeeee….great pep talk. I’m all inspired!

    Reply
  29. Reetta Raitanen

     /  June 22, 2012

    I love these tips, August. FAR technique is something I need to implement in my life.

    Reply
  30. Very simple, yet profound tips, August. I particularly like you FAR pointer. Frequently, I’ve found that UNDER-doing any of the three – Food, Activity, Rest – can have a detrimental impact. Especially Food! 🙂

    Reply
  31. Great list, August, and wise words. Your post reminds me of a lot of what Stephen King talks about in his “On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft”, especially #9 and #10. As usual, you manage to put everything into the kind of perspective that works for all of us! Thanks!

    Reply
  32. I’m sure this surprised no one, but this is another great post August.
    It is also an important one!
    Thanks for sharing!!!

    Reply
  33. Thank you for this post, August. You nailed some excellent points. I like the term “Life block” instead of “writers block.” I believe this is the case for many of us. Like you said, too much stress doesn’t help our creativity at all.

    And being around others who are excited about their projects and talking to them about ideas, brainstorming together, hanging out and sharing information and stories, that’s one of the things that gets me pumped up. Have a wonderful weekend, August!

    Reply
  34. Great tips and inspiration, August! Thanks so much! 😀

    Reply
  35. nicolepyles

     /  June 23, 2012

    Great article! Exercise does wonders for me. It clears my head, relieves stress, and I can focus on a question I have in terms of my current work in progress.

    Also, the few minutes before sleep allows me to focus on new projects and give my brain questions. I like to think I might get answers when I dream! 🙂

    Reply
  36. Catching up, but wanted to say great article! Lots of good information to process here:)

    Reply
  37. Yes –I always write when ideas strike. It usually happens after I’ve laid down for bed, but before I all asleep. I have to hop up and run to the keyboard before I forget! 🙂

    Reply
  38. Why do I get my best ideas in the shower when the pad of paper is just out of reach and the other writing utensil is my finger? 😉

    Reply
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