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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Can I Borrow a Cup of Inspiration?

Another solution suggested for the dry well problem (which we looked at in previous posts) is to beg, borrow or steal water/writing. Or as I prefer to think of it: invite, cite and rewrite.

Invite: Come On In, The Writing Is Fine

The point of begging is to get something for nothing because you’re perceived as needy or having nothing of value to trade. (Dogs don’t really beg, they trade cuteness and companionship for treats.)

No self-respecting writer wants to be seen as needy, so instead of begging, I suggest you invite someone else to write when you’re too drained (or busy) to write yourself:

  • Hire a ghostwriter or someone who specializes in the kind of writing you lack the energy and inspiration to write
  • Partner with another writer and share the payment (or other compensation) for the writing project
  • Hire an intern or mentor a younger writer; you give the intern/mentee publishing credit, access to some of your contacts and/or the benefit of your wisdom in exchange for doing some writing for you
  • Invite a guest blogger to write a blog post
  • Consider how you could invite a guest writer to another writing project (guest columnist, guest essayist, etc.)

Cite: Can I Quote You on That?

When you don’t have the energy or inspiration to write, a good quote can sometimes get you going.

If you’re rolling your eyes, thinking quotes are overused and beneath you, or if you realize you’ve relied on quotes a little too much and need something fresh, remember that you don’t have to keep the quote in the final draft.

Use a quote as a launching point. If you agree, you can expand, adding your own experiences and observations. If you don’t agree, even better. Explain how, when and why you disagree. You can decide later whether the quote itself should stay or go.

You can find quotes with internet search engines, in printed collections of quotations, other books, journals and magazines, historical materials (diaries, journals and records) or conversations (aka interviews) in person, in correspondence (old-fashioned letters, emails, IM, Facebook, Tweet, etc.) or via phone or Skype.

When you interview an expert, you can use a few of the more memorable quotes to inspire you and your readers. Or you can make that person’s observations the core of the article/essay/poem. All you have to do is write decent transitions. Or publish the entire interview as Q&A. Or compile a collection of quotes from several experts.

Experts can be people with degrees or professional experience, but they can also be eyewitnesses or people with relevant life experience. For example, I’m not a professional dog trainer, veterinarian or groomer, but I am an expert on my dogs and my experiences with my dogs.

Rewrite: It’s Not Really Stealing

Let me make this perfectly clear: I’m not suggesting plagiarism in any form under any circumstances! Representing someone else’s words or any other intellectual property as your own really is stealing.

However, copying masterpieces to learn style and technique is a common practice for student painters. As long as they don’t pretend the art is the work of the master, it’s perfectly legitimate. Young writers can learn a lot by writing in the style, voice and perspective of distinctive masters like Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare or Maya Angelou. Exhausted writers can imitate other writers to give themselves a kick-start, then make the work truly their own during revision.

You can “steal” inspiration from other arts: music, paintings, photos, sculpture, and performance art. If you have a concept, but are not sure exactly what you want to say about that topic, enter the keywords into a search engine and specify images; chances are you’ll find plenty of visuals to spark your imagination.

You can also “steal” writing in other ways that actually benefit the writer you’re “stealing” from. For example, I’m going to now refer you to Joanna Penn’s blog post Why Do Great Writers Steal for more examples of how and when writers “steal.” You benefit from Joanna’s insights and Joanna benefits from increased traffic on her blog.

Linking to another blog may not exactly be stealing, but I’m not sure what else to call it and since I’m running out of creative juice here, it seems a fitting way to end this post.

Next time: Reserve and Conserve.

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4 Comments on “Can I Borrow a Cup of Inspiration?”

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  1. Dr. Patel - July 8, 2014

    Dr. Patel

    Can I Borrow a Cup of Inspiration? | The Bane of Your Resistance


  2. Can You Dig Your Way Out of a Creative Dry Spell? | The Bane of Your Resistance - December 2, 2013

    […] Next time we’ll take a look at When to Beg, Borrow or Steal Writing. […]


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