10 New Ideas for Getting Inspired to Write

image of golden retriever in sunglasses

Years ago, I had a golden retriever named Louie who loved pillaging trash cans.

I tried yelling at him whenever he stuck his nose in the can. I tried different models of trash cans with hard-to-open lids. I tried putting the trash can inside a cabinet.

But it didn’t matter. Louie was a trash can fiend, and he wouldn’t be denied.

It got to be such a problem that I eventually called a dog trainer friend for advice.

She told me to put mousetraps in the trash cans.

After she reassured me that her method wasn’t going to harm Louie, I put a mousetrap in every trash can in the house. Then I forgot about it.

I was working in my office when I heard a SNAP in the other room, followed by the sounds of scampering toenails.

Seconds later, Louie came slinking into my office, his tail between his legs, and a betrayed look on his face. He never touched a trash can again.

The point of the story?

A few weeks ago, I gave you 10 of my best tips for getting inspired to write. They’re good ideas, ones that have worked for me in the past, and I think they’ll help you.

But sometimes 10 isn’t enough. Sometimes, you have an unruly muse who, like my golden retriever, refuses to be good, and you have no other choice but to call a knowledgeable friend and ask for more ideas.

Fortunately, I have another 10 ideas ready and waiting. One of these might just be the mousetrap that finally gets your muse to behave.

1. Browse concept photos

Ever browsed through a stock photography site like iStockphoto, looking for the perfect picture, but you just couldn’t find anything that . . . you know . . . grabbed you?

Well, try doing the opposite. Look at concept photos before you write the post, and then let the photo inspire you.

On iStock, you can type “concept” or “[your subject] concept” into the search box, and it’ll give you a selection of photos that represent different ideas. This is exactly how I came up with the idea for my The Courage to Be Wrong post.

2. Write a letter to your internal editor

I got this one from one of my college professors, and it sounds really weird, but here’s the idea. As writers, we all have a voice inside our head telling us our work sucks. Normally, it’s just a nuisance, but sometimes the voice is so loud that it overpowers your creative flow, making it impossible for you to write.

In those cases, here’s what to do: instead of trying to ignore it, confront it. Write a letter to your internal editor and tell him (or her) how irritated you are, how he’s ruining your career, and to shut the hell up. Really let him have it. Oftentimes, it’ll shock the little bastard into silence, and you can get back to work.

3. Use a pattern interrupt

I once met a painter who said that, whenever he is feeling bored with his art, he pulls out a peacock feather, sticks it in his pants like a tail, and goes back to work. It’s so strange, so wrong, that it always gives him a fresh perspective on the painting.

Before you go looking for feathers though, let me tell you the secret: it’s a principle from neurolinguistic programming called a pattern interrupt. Whenever a thought process isn’t working for you, one of the best ways to get unstuck is to do something really strange.

Throw water in your face, scream at the top of your lungs, dance around naked. People might think you’re crazy, but hey, you’re a writer. You’re supposed to be crazy.

4. Take a hit of caffeine

I know, it’s bad for you. Over the long run, it also robs you of more energy than it gives you.

But if you’re propping your eyes open with toothpicks, and you have to get a post done or else, I’m the last person to condemn you for needing a little pick me up. All of my best posts here at Copyblogger were conceived under the influence of Mountain Dew, and I’m convinced it’s eloquence in a bottle.

If you need it, I say drink it. Caffeine may be bad, but it’s far, far better than your best ideas dying inside of you because you couldn’t stay awake in your chair. Just my opinion.

5. Get off your butt

Whenever you’re feeling stuck, the worst thing you can do is sit at the computer and try to grind it out. You’re far, far better off getting up and walking around. Movement creates a sense of energy, and it can help you get your creative wheels turning when you just can’t figure out how you want to approach a post.

Personally, I find pacing in circles to be the most helpful because it requires no conscious thought, and I can concentrate on the problem at hand. Taking a walk can also work, especially if it’s a path you know well.

6. Unlock your unconscious mind

The longer I write, the more I realize it’s largely an unconscious process. You could be taking a shower, washing the dishes, sleeping — regardless of what it is, your mind is ticking away in the background, figuring out what to say and how to say it.

Sometimes though, our minds are so cluttered that we can’t hear our intuition, and when that happens, writing is a struggle. The only way I know to solve it is to sit still and meditate, deliberately quieting your mind and doing your best to listen instead of think.

Many times, a fully developed idea will just pop into your head, and you’ll know exactly what to write and why.

7. Browse the archives

The next time you’re struggling for post ideas, try browsing through your blog archives for a few minutes, rereading old posts.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll always have a different perspective now than you did then, and the old posts will bug you because they are a little outdated. You’ll see points you should have made, metaphors you should’ve used, nuances you should have noticed. All of which make great fodder for follow-up posts.

8. Lecture an idiot

Sometimes, the best way to get inspired is to write a good, old-fashioned rant. In your mind, conjure an image of someone who said, did, or believes something idiotic, and then start writing what you would like to say to them.

Sure, it’ll be angry and condescending. Sure, you’ll probably go a little too far. Sure, you’ll need to edit it before publishing it to the world.

But who cares? Writing great prose has a lot less to do with mechanics than it does with figuring out how to get your blood boiling and then having the courage to put your passion into words.

If writing a rant helps you do that, go for it.

9. Let other artists charge you up

Creativity is contagious. Whenever you feel like your batteries are drained, find another artist doing their thing and just watch them for a while. If they’re good, something about it will charge you up, and you’ll want to get to work.

Personally, I like to watch reruns of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance. The show has nothing to do with writing, but the dedication of the dancers, the beauty of the choreography, and the emotion of the moment are so inspiring that I can’t help wanting to emulate it in my work.

For you, it may be something else. Whatever it is, find it, and set aside the time to let it inspire you.

10. Look within

Let’s get down to the real answer, shall we?

If you’re really serious about writing, if you want to make a career out of it, if you want to be so good that people talk about and remember you, then the secret to inspiration isn’t getting inspired. It’s being inspired.

It’s about loving what you do. It’s about loving who you are. It’s about loving your life.

I’ve never heard of anyone who worked a boring job, came home to a boring family, watched three hours of boring television, and then proceeded to write something of spellbinding greatness. It just doesn’t happen.

Here’s why: your writing is an extension of who you are.

If your life is a soul-sucking heap of mediocrity, then your writing will be a soul-sucking heap of mediocrity. Similarly, if your life is an adventure that brings you such joy you want to weep, then that joy will seep into your words, and anyone who reads them will begin to smile.

The difference between a legendary writer and a merely good one isn’t mechanics. It’s intensity.

Train yourself to find that intensity, and you’ll never lack for inspiration again.

About the Author: Jon Morrow is Associate Editor of Copyblogger. Get more from Jon on twitter.

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Reader Comments (64)

  1. says

    Hi Jon,
    I love the feather idea – in fact I always take a break to do something strange (I’m strange I guess) and it really does work. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I’ll pretend to play the piano with my keyboard – all kinds of crazy letters flood the screen. Somehow after I delete all of that gobbledy-gook, new ideas are able to get through. I had no idea it had anything to do with the interrupt concept.

  2. says

    I love the idea of writing a letter to your internal editor, ha ha. What usually works for me is getting off my butt or spending some time meditating and clearing my mind.

    Great post, loved the humor.

  3. says

    Hey Jonathan,

    Awesome list you are giving us again! But a peacock feather in the pants. That has to be the wildest thing I’ve heard someone say for inspiration.

    Chat with you later…

  4. says

    #5 – Get off your butt – It’s amazing how many great new ideas swim around in your head if you just walk. Head out the door and don’t forget to take a notebook with you. Sometimes it takes a few blocks, sometimes a few miles but there’s something about getting the blood pumping and being alone with your inner self that inevitably produces creativity.

    I believe this is why Stephen King never misses his daily walks – it almost killed him, but it’s produced some great stories…

  5. Andrew Billmann says

    Hi Jon,

    I think for many writers, finding inspiration to write isn’t too much of a road block. Finding inspiration to write WITHIN A GIVEN FRAMEWORK (whether that’s a specific medium, a pre-determined corporate style, a fixed word count or in an unexciting industry) is the really challenging part. In most cases, working writers have a lot of constraints that attack motivation like acid. Your ideas are awesome for blank-slate copywriting, but are there some tips that might apply when you’re faced with a lot of up-front constraints?

  6. says

    I have to say you guys never cease to amaze me (or let me down). Just TODAY I was think of how I feel totally uninspired and don’t feel like writing at all this week but I know it’s vital to help me stand out from my competitors who I don’t think do as much writing.

    Thanks for the much need push and to Brian and the crew, Thanks for Scribe! I just signed up yesterday and i’m thinking we (not sure when I got involved) need to come up with a package some day for unlimited analyzes :-)

  7. Youpele says

    Fantastic post Johno! I’m always looking for methods to thaw out a mental freeze in my adventures of becoming a copy-writer. I began the AWAI course you recommended and trust me m8ty. There’s never been a better way to arouse the muse going through the AWAI exercises!

  8. says

    I got stuck on something re-reading this post. It’s “If writing a rant helps you do that, go for it.”

    I hadn’t read this yet but amazing how it tied into something I was going through about a week ago trying to write a post. I didn’t know what to write and starting thinking of things that infuriated me and I came up with a post on my other site entitled, “Grace Under Pressure – What Does It Mean To You?”

    Basically, its a post about how I get tired of some people’s “you should suck it up and be grateful” attitude in response to the things I am going through with my son who has seizures.

    I got mad enough at “those” people (and no one in particular) and wrote a pretty darned good post with my rantings :-)

  9. says

    I have to say that I never considered browsing through concept photos to spark ideas for posts, but I just popped over to iStockphoto and found some ideas already! Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. says

    First post iv’e read on your blog Jon & my first comment. These are really inspiring & interesting tips to get people writing. I’ve never really liked the idea of writing but if you can also rant & rave about things I’m going to give it my best shot.


  11. says

    I sent an email to one of my favorite writers asking for her writing secrets. How does she defeat writers block? How does she handle the editing process? What are her secrets?

    This is what she told me: “I don’t have any sort of system really. I sit, I write, I edit and then re-write. Repeat, repeat, repeat.”

    For me, this has worked. It’s a stubbornness that says “I am going to sit here and work, if the ideas won’t come, I will sit here anyway and write”.

    Not a strategy for everyone, but certainly it will help some people. It helped me :)

  12. says

    That was a very unique list. I can relate to your dog’s relentless pursuit of the trash can as well. I have my own issues with that.

    Looking to other areas of art for inspiration can be n instant lightbulb for ideas. Artists have been borrowing ideas from each other forever, so there is no reason that you can’t incorporate that into your writing as well… just like the philosophers say, there is no original thought… so you might as well get borrowing.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  13. says

    Some real interesting ideas Jon… some I follow
    regularly like getting up and walking or sitting very still…
    clearing my mind…waiting… they both work.

    I also go clean the kitchen up sometimes… that kills 2 birds… getting clean dishes and my mind percolating!

    Thanks for the istock photo idea! that’s another kind of
    kill 2 birds idea … I should think of a different metaphor lest someone rants about killing birds!

    Andrew Billman makes an excellent point with:
    “Finding inspiration to write WITHIN A GIVEN FRAMEWORK (whether that’s a specific medium, a pre-determined corporate style, a fixed word count or in an unexciting industry) is the really challenging part.”

    That is exactly when we need new ways to get inspired to


  14. says

    I would add: Read through your readers’ comments. They have great questions, inputs, suggestions, and ideas that you can easily address and turn into a post.

  15. says

    @Ann, that’s always a good one. (I think Jon may have pointed to that in his first post, he links to it here.)

    @Fran, washing dishes is a good one for me. Actually, anything with water. Taking a shower is good as well.

  16. says

    Point# 10 covers all other points. “your writing is an extension of who you are.” Basically with all other methods, including sticking a peacock feather in your pants, what you are doing is changing your internal state, which is the primary source of your inspiration and creativity. Great post, it comes straight from your heart!

  17. Richie says

    Lately my inspiration has been coming from “external pressure” from joining http://www.750words.com — this has taken the place of running my own blog as the external pressure source.

    Whatever you write gets processed into a little personal-zeitgeist page so you can analyze the sum of work for trends / recurring themes.

    It’s mostly for fun, or maybe serious writers trying to pull themselves out of a rut!

  18. says

    Thanks for a great post! I use photos all the time to help me with my posts, sometimes to give me some visualization ideas and they sometimes even help me with titles.


  19. says

    @Simone, Thanks for pointing out the link! I see it now. I should’ve figured you guys got all the bases covered :).

  20. says

    “People might think you’re crazy, but hey, you’re a writer. You’re supposed to be crazy. ”

    Love this line! I will have to remember that the next time tells me I am crazy, for whatever reason.

    Thanks for some different from the usual tips here!

  21. says

    Thanks for the great spurs in each of your inspiring ideas. For many of them, I needed the reminder. For a few others, I’ll go for them – looking for a feather right now!

  22. says

    Synchronicity: a half-hour ago (before I read your post), I was checking out the Wikimedia Commons photos for the first time, and in seeing a photo—a Blink moment—had an idea for a blog post. I’m sure your 2-10 will work just as well too (though I think adding a little Jack Daniel’s to the coffee softens any jitters).

    Going to sternly lecture my soul-sucking heap of mediocre idiocy now…

  23. says

    Love the ideas Jon. Not sure how much my teenagers will like coming home to find me dancing naked but…I’ll bet they’ll stop bringing their friends over without calling first!

  24. says

    Love the post! I would add that replacing caffeine with Wine works. Hence the greatest inventors were big wine drinkers, after office hours of course..


  25. says

    I believe much in pattern interruption. When I break the boredom, I always have more results in my posts.

    Probably when I use something that shock readers, like a contadictory image, I have tested that there are more likely that readers will remain involved on the blog post.

    When I have shocked my readers with amazing photos, I have had many more visits compared then when I use a great title in the blog post.

    Thanks for your 10 precious ideas.

    My hand on my heart,

  26. says

    I scan loads of posts every day, but it’s not often I make it to the end of one. Thanks for an insanely useful post Jon – especially timely considering I’ve set aside the entire day today for writing/marketing etc. Looking forward to throwing some water in my face and dancing round naked – I’m sure my baby will find it amusing!

  27. David says

    Thats awesome. From this point forward I will always try to remember to say.. ” Thank you for being my number 8″ when I find myself in a ridiculous debate .. just that…
    Maybe even after every facebook posting..lol

  28. Mike says

    Very funny ! I have also seen a mouse trap with a tiny red ball where one would put the cheese and a tag that says”Customer Complaints-Press Here”


  29. says

    @Andrew: These ideas can help you get moving, but they can’t make you do something you don’t want to do. It sounds like that’s the problem. My advice: either reject the framework or reframe it in a way that makes it interesting for you.

    @Mike: There’s some truth to that. A big part of being a writer is really committing to it. On the other hand, I don’t buy into the argument of forcing yourself to do it, whether you want to or not. Any writer who says they have that much self-discipline is either superhuman or lying. For most of us, the secret isn’t doing it whether we want to or not; it’s figuring out how to make ourselves want to.

    @Kat: That’s quite a compliment. Thank you.

  30. says

    Loved the last tip! Intensity is something that I had been lacking. Now, I know what’s the problem and will work on diagnosis!
    I feel sorry for Louie! The method was effective but painful! :(

  31. says

    Love Tip # 10 – Intensity and inspiration! I also find reading something totally unconnected also gives me the break I need. I come back refreshed and ready to attack.

  32. says

    Great post and great ideas. I always find that always having a notebook with me when I am out and about is a great way to capture ideas. Especially when I see things that amuse or annoy me.


  33. says

    All ten ideas are excellent. I also used to tell my students (when I was teaching) to change their location, especially if they found that they’d plan to write when they went home after work, and then get caught up in the pleasures or responsibilities of being there. If, instead of going home, they went to a library, bookstore, hotel lobby, park, etc., they’d delay the gratification (or obligation) of being home. It pretty much worked for everyone. Although I now write at home, I wrote my first several books out of the house, so I can promise you that it makes a big difference. I have additional tips in my free online writing tips, which you can find at http://www.rachelsimon.com/tips.php.

  34. says

    A colleague sent me this article and I have been greatly inspired! I especially loved your advice on how to deal with your internal editor…lol. I also find that utilizing a “pattern change” is helpful, though I tend to stay away from feathers…Thanks for sharing your wisdom and I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts.

  35. says

    This post inspired about 10 new posts for my blog. So THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! And you’re right… mediocrity breeds mediocrity. It’s my goal in life to always rise above mediocre and push for greatness. You rock, Jon!

  36. says

    Thanks for the inspiring ideas!
    Under the topic of unlocking your unconscious mind, I often find that I come up with some of my best ideas for content for my web site as I am just drifting off to sleep.
    Keeping a pen and notebook bedside has been helpful to help me retain these ideas and follow up on them in the morning.

  37. Yasser Khan says

    HaHaHa!! I was laughing after I read writing the letter to you internal editor and I’m gonna shut him up for good!! HaHAHa!

  38. says

    These are really great ideas but sometimes, I find it difficult to write or to continue writing not because of no idea, but pure laziness, tiredness or the motivation to keep writing.

    I don’t know why. Perhaps I was making comparison to those who never writes but making much more than what I am doing by getting other people to write for them.

    Hm…perhaps I need a shift of mindset.. Jon, what do you think?

  39. says

    I laughed when remembering a thing about writing, like when you say ‘Take a hit of the caffeine’. Sometimes I make the mistake so often made it look just a little work.

  40. says

    I like the letter to the internal editor idea! I often write a rant on a subject and then take ideas from the rant that can be made into a post, these usually have more passion when generated from the rant.

    And for the Dr. Pepper V’s Mountain Dew argument, Mountain Dew is by far the winner!

  41. Alecia Norman says

    I think that this post is very helpful for people that have writers block. I am the type of person that has no problem writing when I have allot of research and materials to back up what I am talking about. But sometimes when I have the task of writing things that appeal to the public or specific publics I can freeze up. This doesn’t happen often but when it does it is not a fun experience. One thing that I usually do is watch some tv or do some household chores. Many an idea has come to me while doing laundry or cleaning my bathroom. I think that from now on I will try to employ the tips you have given here.

  42. Nosheen says

    One of the best posts on ‘getting inspired’!

    P.S – ‘So you think you can Dance’, inspires me too :)

  43. spyergirl4 says

    About that “letter to your internal editor” thing… I actually did something like that recently. I got really mad that I couldn’t write, so I started writing anyway. It started out with me wondering why I could write, and in the end it became a full-blown rant toward the “silent assassin” that kept killing my stories before I even got on the page. The whole thing was a page and a half, typed. It did shock the assassin into silence for a little while. Unfortunately though, that bastard just never wants to leave. I think that “closed door” suggestion might help me, though…. I always worry about whether I’m writing everytihng right, or whether my story is good enough… but maybe you’re right… I should just WRITE.

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