Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with a degree in public relations and set out to work in the Christian publishing industry. In 2006 she got her wish when she accepted a publicity position at a major trade book publisher. While working as a publicist in the industry, she decided to pursue her other dream-being an author. Along the way to having her novel published, she wrote articles for several magazines and worked as a freelance editorial consultant. Liz lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she enjoys theater, ice skating, volunteering in her church’s bookstore and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nephew and three nieces. She loves stories of true love with happy endings. The Kidnapping of Kenzie Thorn is her first novel and she shares her writing misadventures at

When Inspiration Strikes

by Liz Johnson

Inevitably inspiration strikes at the worst possible moment. It’s the middle of the day, and I’m busy working at . . . well . . . work. I work in the publishing industry and spend a lot of my day writing. My problem is that the flash usually isn’t for any sort of work-related writing. I sure wish it was.

Instead, I’m bombarded with what, in the moment, seems to be a brilliant idea for my latest article. Or a new character suddenly demands attention, screaming for his own plot. The absolute worst happens just weeks before Christmas when a coworker brings in her weekend edition of the local newspaper with the announcement for the holiday fiction contest and I discover that I have exactly seventy-four hours to write twelve hundred brilliant words based on the just-revealed photo. Then I’m cultivating ideas at one of the busiest seasons in our office when I know I should just be focused on the job at hand.

As writers prone to inopportune inspiration, what are we supposed to do when inspiration strikes?

I’ve tried several different tactics to deal with ideas that strike when I’m supposed to be focusing on the press kit on my computer screen. Some have worked great. Others not so much. But I hope some of these will become regular tools in your writing shed like they have for me.

Ignore it and hope to remember it after work.

When I first had a sudden idea at work, I tried to ignore it. I pushed it to the back of my mind, dwelling on what I thought was the “real work” at hand. I figured I’d remember the idea at home that night, or when I had a moment to jot it down.

I was wrong on two fronts.

Sometimes those really creative thoughts are fleeting. I can’t count the number of them I’ve lost because I thought I’d remember later.

And worse for my day job—I get so distracted by the idea for my writing that I don’t really get anything done. Ignoring inspiration usually ends badly, so I don’t recommend it. But I do recommend figuring out which of the following work best for you.

Take a jog to the soda machine.

Ideal for those ideas that you want to dwell on for just a moment or contemplate how it might fit into your current work in progress, the quick trip to the soda/vending machine will give you just enough time to figure out what’s really important for you to remember. It removes you completely from the day job and allows a quick dip into the creative.

Don’t plan to take an hour to think through all the details. Instead, use this trip to decide if your idea is worth hanging on to and if it fits with something you’re currently working on or something you didn’t even know is up next. If you need more time, consider another option.

Find a mindless task that needs to be done.

Every short story I’ve ever written sprouted from an idea for the first sentence. But one sentence makes for a very, very short story, so I like to take that opening line and let it roll around my

mind, playing with possible second lines until I know the characters and have a direction for the story. But this can take a long time and gets me into trouble when I sit at my desk for an hour and lose myself in the rumination process, failing to complete some of the much needed work I’m paid to do.

Instead of wasting precious time during the day, I find the most mindless task that needs to get done, and I do it. For example, stuffing books into envelopes and slapping mailing labels on them. Years ago I worked in advertising sales for a newspaper, and I had to meet my clients at their offices, so road trips became my brainstorming time. Even if a visit to the client could wait until the next day, I got into my car when an idea arrived. You might have another option in your job that gives you freedom to think about things outside of work.

In that time when my mind has a little freedom, I let the ideas roll. And while it might not be handy to write all of these ideas down in the moment, just thinking them through helps me get ready for the time that I do have in front of my computer at the end of the day.

Shoot a quick e-mail to yourself.

But if you can’t get in front of your writing computer fast enough, take fifteen seconds and write yourself a quick e-mail. This is ideal when you suddenly have a perfect phrase that needs to be written word for word. I’ve discovered that it’s a lot more efficient for me to take the few seconds to shoot a personal e-mail than to spend an hour trying to push the thought to the back of my mind and focus on what really needs to be done.

Once the e-mail is sent, I am free to spend the rest of my day on projects for work. And when I get home at the end of the day, a treat is waiting for me in my inbox—a phrase that is sure to start my next short story or give the hero of my WIP new depth.

However you decide to deal with inconvenient inspiration, creative solutions that fit with your day job culture are generally best. Figure out what works for you. Just don’t ignore those brilliant flashes only because they show up at inopportune moments.

The Kidnapping Of Kenzie Thorn