Writer with notebook in hand, looking off pensively

How to Find Inspiration To Keep Writing Your Novel

5 Jan 2024 Inspiration, The Writing Craft

Writing a novel can be thrilling.

You may picture an author as a wizard, magically writing page after page as if overwhelmed with inspiration.

Therein lies a myth. Novelists especially must be inspired to write from their passions. Rarely is the writing itself magical, and it’s hardly EVER easy.

The fact is, writing done well is work. In fact, I find it grueling, and I’ve been doing it for half a century. I’m blessed and humbled to call it my career, but I’m even on record that I don’t love writing itself.

Oh, I love BEING a writer, love that I have proved I can do it, love being known for it, love everything it’s brought me. But do I love writing itself? No. In fact, often I dread it, hate it, put it off. I compare it to marathon running — not that I’ve ever attempted that. 

But ask a marathoner at the 20-mile mark if they don’t just love running, and you’re not likely to get the response you expect. 

Like me, they love training, getting better, and being recognized for what they do. They enjoy knowing they can accomplish something unique. But do they love the grueling nature of the activity itself? 

I don’t. What I really love is having written. :) 

So don’t feel alone if you’re frustrated feeling like some days you can’t produce a single word.

As time goes on, you feel as though your dream to be a writer may never come true.

Trust me when I say I know what you’re going through. It’s not uncommon for me to roll out of bed wishing to do anything but write.

But I know how to get unstuck.

You don’t have to quit, and if you already have, it’s not too late to begin again.

What many call Writer’s Block is something much deeper that may be stifling your creativity.

It could be the fear that you’re not a good writer, and so you feel you should just give up.

Would you believe you can actually use procrastination

You might feel frozen by perfectionism.

Or, the problem might simply be too many distractions in your life.

Many writers turn to writing prompts to find inspiration. The internet is full of lists of ideas to consider. 

5 Tips for Finding Writing Inspiration

If you struggle with writer’s fear—and I have never met an author, successful or not, who doesn’t—you find yourself frozen at your keyboard, worrying that nothing you write will be worth reading.

Maybe the mere idea of producing a massive manuscript overwhelms you. It should! Where does one even start? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. 

Even getting started requires deciding where to take that first bite.

1. Determine What It Is You’re Trying to Say

Let me be frank. Wanting to be a writer just for the sake of being a writer isn’t going to cut it. If you sit at a blank screen or over an empty page wondering what to write, you’re going about this all wrong.

Yes, knowing HOW to write and WHAT to write to get your message across can be paralyzing. But unless you have an idea what you’re TRYING to communicate, you’re not a writer yet.

Your story idea, your plot, should come from something about which you’re passionate. And that means more than just wanting to entertain people with a page-turning tale. What’s the point of your story, the message, the theme? What do you want readers to take from your novel?

The more profound your theme, the more important your novel can be. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be cosmic in nature. For one of my novels, I merely wanted to speculate on whether there’s any payoff this side of heaven for a life devoted to God.

Of course, being a person of faith, I hoped my story would support the idea that such a life is worth pursuing, regardless of whether it’s rewarded in this life or only in the next. My story shows a character who does get a glimpse of her effect on others, so it enjoys a happy ending.

But knowing my theme, my aim, helped me decide on my characters, my setting, and really everything else that went into the story.

Your theme can be as simple as “good overcomes evil,” which should force you to consider what or whom in your story will represent good and evil. 

If your theme is “love conquers all,” what kind of love are you thinking of? A mother’s love? A wife’s love?

Knowing what you want to say will be easier when you’ve settled on why you want to say it.

In short, don’t just write to write. Write because you have something to say.

2. Create a Strong Protagonist

Characters drive stories.

They can be ordinary people thrust into dire situations. Or, they can be extraordinary men and women called upon to solve a unique problem because of their skill sets.

Primarily, they need to feel like real people who react to conflict in relatable, human ways.

Even superheroes—to remain relatable—must bear both flaws and strengths. 

Your protagonist should exhibit weaknesses exploited throughout your novel, but their character arc should also be such that through conflict they develop the strength to become heroic in the end.

What are their goals, and what stands in the way of those goals?

3. Inject Conflict

As conflict serves as the engine for fiction, sometimes that inspires you to write even before you’ve decided upon a protagonist to thrust in its way.

Suzanne Collins had the idea of the Hunger Games themselves before she created Katniss Everdeen and her story.

For you, it might be easier to imagine a battle or an obstacle and then build a character meant to face the challenge.

Creating your primary conflict can help you establish your tone, come up with your setting, and populate your novel. Conflict should emerge as part of your theme.

As the engine of fiction, conflict keeps your readers turning the pages.

So what constitutes the best conflict for your story? Once again, look around you.

Conflict includes, but need not be restricted to war, betrayal, conspiracy, violence, and so on. A foreboding undercurrent of danger, mistrust, deceit, etc., can be the very definition of conflict.

While external conflict can serve as the backbone of your novel, internal conflict is just as important.

How does all this external conflict impact your characters inside? How do they feel? How are they affected? And, again, how might they grow from all this?

4. Establish Your Setting

Louis Sachar says that before he wrote Holes, he came up with the image of Camp Green Lake, which sounds nice but actually comprises a desert wasteland with poisonous lizards.

As long as you’re careful not to allow an interesting location to take precedence over your characters or the plot itself, developing it can be the perfect starting point before you even develop the characters who will live out your theme.

The idea of worldbuilding is not limited to futuristic or speculative fiction. Settling on your setting can and should be fun and keep your creative juices flowing.

Ask yourself:

  • What did your story world look like in the past, and what caused the change?
  • How long has your world existed?
  • Is your world based on a real place, or is it entirely fictional?
  • How much of your world must you reveal to support the story?
  • How does the terrain play into your story?
  • What role does the weather play?

5. Pull From Real Life 

Many authors say their novels were inspired by their own experiences.

John Green wrote The Fault in Our Stars after Esther Earl, a teen cancer sufferer, shared her experience online.

Ernest Hemingway based A Farewell to Arms on his experiences in World War 1.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was inspired by her childhood in Alabama with her older brother and their lawyer father.

Write What Inspires You

What moves you?

Keep a record of what makes you think.

Was it the old lady in the grocery store with a little dog in her purse? Or did an image of a dragon sleeping atop a mountain pop into your head?

Write it down.

Most importantly, write from the overflow of your passions. That will keep you coming back to the keyboard, even when the writing gets tough—and it always does.