Welcome to How to Keep Writing Wednesdays, where you'll find a boost of encouragement to help you keep the words flowing.

Observing Inspiration

This week I had several budding novelists and memoirists tell me they hadn’t written for a while. Most felt guilty, having set up a writing area in their home, a writing schedule, and so on. But instead of writing, they lived their lives. They visited with friends, ate good meals, did their taxes. Was this procrastination? And if so, what could they do about it?

My answer was simple. First, no guilt. Second, observe. That’s right. If you’re not going to be writing, then observe what you’re doing and what they people around you are doing. What’s going on right now in the world? Pay attention. Writers get their material from life, but this is only helpful to the extent that you’re taking in what’s going on. Consider it research.

Observing human behavior—ours or others—is important preparation for a writer. What do you know or think you know about people? What do you see being played out? When have you been surprised, taken aback, shocked, enthralled? These observations, however casual, are important. Sure, an English degree or Masters in Fine Arts might help you with your writing career, but the best writers I know are armed with this: the ability to observe and take in the world around them, then turn it into something different or new.

You’ll know when you’re ready to sit back down and turn your attention to the page. You can try writing for fifteen minutes a day as a warm-up, building up to an hour or more, all the time telling yourself that the time you took not writing was a period of information gathering. No sense in suffering at the desk and staring at a blank page. Forgo the guilt as well. Write, and if you find you can’t write, then live and observe.