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
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
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.
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
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
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