Years ago I interviewed and wrote the story of an award winning author.
No one had ever really tackled his story before – who would be brave (read: dumb) enough to do that. He is a legend in his field, almost like a household name. If you knew the industry he worked in, you knew his name.
I was young enough, and unknown enough, and dumb enough, to think it would be a good idea for me to write about him for the publication I worked for.
I remember getting on the phone to interview him, I had just jumped back in my sweltering car from a networking even in the middle of a hot Florida day to make the call. The air in the car was thick and you could almost push the moisture aside with your hand. I had to leave the air conditioner on low to keep the sounds of the blowing air from overtaking the conversation. I was in a rush to get back to my new baby and sweat poured from my brow as I grasped at the sliding steering wheel with each turn as I was heading home.
What the fuck was I thinking?
First of all, who was I to write about this guy. Me. I would never be able to pull this off. Not only was he a name I had known since I was a child, he wrote for the one publication I always dreamed of working for.
Second of all, this was not how I conducted interviews – in the car on the drive home. I wasn’t prepared, I couldn’t take notes, and my phone was precariously balanced on the dash in hopes it would record the whole conversation, sans air conditioner.
“This is either really smart, or really stupid.”
I thought, (a line which I have often found myself repeating throughout my life like a motto, of sorts).
“But here we go.”
So as the phone rang and the humidity caused my clothes to cling to my skin, I took the only deep breathe I could muster through the heavy air and prayed for the best.
If there’s one thing I know about authors, rarely do we get asked about ourselves. And it’s even more rare for us to be asked about our process, our ideas about stories and storytelling, and our own journeys into authorhood.
We’re always telling the stories of someone else.
From the moment the first question left my lips, the voice on the other end of the phone unravelled story after story, wisdom after wisdom, about his process as a writer and storyteller.
Relieved that this would be so much easier than I first thought, I relaxed, softening into the words of the master storyteller.
“Sometimes you get nothing…” he said, pondering his own process of inspiration. “You can’t plan on it – you definitely can’t plan on what kind of story you’re going to get – you just hope that it hits you. Then, all of a sudden, no matter where you are, no matter what time of the day, a story will end up in your mind.”
And I knew exactly what he was talking about.
It’s the wish of every writer, every creator, that every story will unfold that way – as naturally as the rumble that reliably follows a flash of lightning. The kind of story that hits so quickly, and is so fleeting, that you rush to put pen to paper before it slips back into the abyss from wherever it came.
It’s glorious, it’s quick, it’s painless; bright, clear, vibrant; full of life, of inspiration, of meaning.
It’s like you’re stuck by lightning.
The dreaded writer’s block.
And yet… it’s rare.
So, painfully, rare.
More often than not, we’re staring down the barrel of a deadline and lightning has not struck.
And we find ourselves experiencing the kind of writer’s block where you’re almost desperate enough to venture out onto the middle of the lake in a tin pontoon boat during a lightening storm (true story, for a different day,) just to find some inspiration.
The only (safe) option, in those moments, is to rely on your craft – not inspiration – to unlock that writer’s block. There are certain, reliable, dependable, strategies to help you through.
Here are my favorites:
- Stash Ideas. When inspiration does strike – grab it! We’ve all told ourselves, “what a great idea, I’ll remember to write about this later,” when lightning strikes mid-shower. Here’s my friendly reminder: you won’t remember. You’ll just find yourself standing in the mirror brushing your teeth desperately searching for that little nugget of inspiration you had that was so brilliant. So, the minute that lightning strikes, bottle that sucker! Grab it out of thin air, capture, and record it. I have a running list in my notes in my phone of topics that I want to speak or write about later. I haven’t run out. Yet
- Lean on your craft. Your “craft” is your process. The step-by-step journey you go through to create a piece of content or tell a story. You can always lean on my Simple Storytelling Solution to work through an idea and create the content. So next time inspiration does strike, pay attention to the process you go through so that you can replicate it at will.
- Change the scenery. Don’t torture yourself by sitting in the same spot, staring at a blank screen, for hours. If nothing is coming, get up and move. Go for a walk, do something you love, and STOP thinking about what you’re trying to create. Forced inspiration is impossible.
- Change the medium. If every time you sit in front of a computer screen the gears in your brain stop turning and words feel simply impossible to find, change the medium! Google Docs has a great voice to text feature, and there are tons of voice note and transcription services out there (I use temi.com). So, once you’ve changed the scenery, change the medium. Instead of writing on a computer, talk out what you want to say. Instead of talking, write with pen and paper. Or, draw it out. Just don’t get stuck in one medium!
- Write freely first. It seems like the most cliche piece of advice but, trust me, it works. When you finally sit down to write, be sure to write completely freely – absolutely no deleting or editing the first time around! The moment you begin to think about editing your work, your brain will launch out of creative mode and into all kinds of mental states that are not conducive to writing and storytelling. So write first, set it aside, and edit later – but never together.
Having every piece of content or story appear out of thin air like a bolt of lightning is a pipe dream. It’s simply not the way things work… unfortunately!
So, unless you’re willing to fly a kite with a key attached, now is the time to develop some of the skills to create content intentionally when you’re not inspired.
Practicing the art of your craft is more important – and realistic – than waiting for lightning to strike.
Though we can hope.