Where do you find writing inspiration?
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I’m obsessed with helping you stay motivated and connected in your writing life. One way I do this for myself is by reading about the writing lives of writers I admire.
I know that I have to find my own way and craft a writing practice that works for the specifics of my life, but I do look for inspiration from those who’ve gone before — particularly women writers who may have had some of the same challenges I have faced over the years, including how to get the writing done in the middle of a very busy life.
Here are some of the writers whose writing routines have been sources of inspiration for me over the years. I hope you find inspiration here for your own writing life as well.
(And if you find this helpful, come find me on Instagram and Facebook where I share inspirational quotes and free resources every week to help writers finish their books and create a writing life they love. Would love to connect with you!)
Writing Inspiration for Mothers: Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver has won a Pulitzer Prize and has been nominated for countless other awards. She’s made the New York Times bestseller list and has spoken about her writing routine on several occasions.
In 2012, she said the following about her writing routine, “I tend to wake up very early. Too early. Four o’clock is standard. My morning begins with trying not to get up before the sun rises. But when I do, it’s because my head is too full of words, and I just need to get to my desk and start dumping them into a file. I always wake with sentences pouring into my head.”
She goes on to say that she doesn’t have a hard time writing, but that she has a hard time not writing. She has also had a difficult time managing being a mother and being a writer, and trying to make sure that neither takes a backseat in her life. She claims that being a mother has made her a better writer, and vice versa.
Kingsolver provides an important lesson: while writing is important, you can’t stop living for the sake of doing so because often your writing will come from inspiration you find in your daily life.
Writing Inspiration for Activists: Susan Sontag
Sontag is known for her famous book, “On Photography”, which is beloved among those in digital media and photography. In her diaries, published in the 70s, she wrote the following about her writing routine, “I will get up every morning no longer than eight. (Can break this rule once a week. […] I will write in the Notebook every day. (Model:Lichtenberg’s Waste Books.)” While she said a lot more in these goals, one thing is clear based on her writing: you need to set goals and rules for yourself.
For some, this will mean writing 200 words per day; for others it’ll mean writing 200 words per week. Whatever it is, set yourself a realistic goal and stick to it. Provide yourself with an example to strive toward, like Sontag did with Lichtenberg’s Waste Books.
Writing Inspiration for Poets: Maya Angelou
Angelou is a beloved poet who was, and is, known for her feminist voice and loving writing. In her book, Daily Rituals, she wrote the following: “I keep a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room. I try to get there around 7, and I work until 2 in the afternoon.”
Angelou also comments on sharing her writing with her husband, “We have a drink together and have dinner. Maybe after dinner I’ll read to him what I’ve written that day. He doesn’t comment. I don’t invite comments from anyone but my editor, but hearing it aloud is good. Sometimes I hear the dissonance; then I try to straighten it out in the morning.”
Ms. Angelou has a lot to teach to fellow writers. Writing in the morning is common among writers, and many prefer to write as early as possible in the day. Angelou liked to read her writing out loud to someone, her husband in this instance, but didn’t necessarily do it to hear his opinion; instead, she did it to hear how her own writing sounded when she would read it aloud.
Reading aloud can help you to find mistakes and fluctuations in tone that you wouldn’t find otherwise. This can be an excellent tool when the time comes to edit your writing.
Writing Inspiration for Short Story Writers: Alice Munro
For those who don’t yet know her work, Alice Munro is a prize winner and an established Canadian short story author. In an interview with The Paris Review in 1994, she said the following about her writing routine: “I write every morning, seven days a week. I write starting about eight o’clock and finish around eleven… I am so compulsive that I have a quota of pages.”
Are you seeing a theme of setting goals among these authors? Munro wakes up as early as possible and has a minimum number of pages to write per day. While she likely missed a day or two, she sets an extraordinary example for discipline and setting a routine.
Alice Munro has also commented on creating these routines, and believes that it is essential for those who are looking to accomplish something. If, for example, you set a goal for the number of pages you’ll write per day, you can also provide an approximate date for when your novel or book will be done. (This is a tactic I guide writers through in my First Book Finish course.)
Writing Inspiration for Novelists: Jane Austen
I'm sure you know my friend Jane — she’s one of the world’s most famous and respected female authors. Her work is known for its domestic period detail and strong female leads. Austen was known for waking up early and for playing the piano. At 9M, she would take care of breakfast and then write in the sitting room, where her family would be sewing closeby. She would put her writing away if visitors came over, but would take it out again in the evening, when she would read her writing to her family.
By reading her work aloud to her family, she could hear the writing and reflect on it and this will have provided her with a place to start when it came time to edit. I’m not sure when I started imagining Jane Austen as my writing buddy but it still works for me — if she can succeed as a writer at a time when women writers were not common or accepted, then what excuse do I have? (Love this movie, by the way! We can argue over the best P&P adaptation later.)
I love reading about the writing routines of my favourite authors and hope you’ve found a moment of inspiration here, and perhaps even a few practical tips, to help sustain your own writing life. For regular motivational quotes from the writers you love, don’t forget to come find me on Instagram and Facebook. See you there!