Ali’s recent post discouraged us from forcing creativity. If you don’t feel it, she said, don’t write. Yet Gretchen recommends sitting down and writing every day, because you’ll get in a rhythm and stay connected to your material.
Well, which is it? Should you force yourself at your blogging, even when you don’t feel the inspiration, or wait patiently for the muse to visit, hopefully before you lose your readers through neglect? I’m curious to hear how you approach this question. After all, blogging is about content, right? If we can’t generate content on demand, what are our chances of being great bloggers?
As a professional writer, I’ve had plenty of time to consider the inspiration vs. obligation (or creativity vs. productivity) question, and I think the best answer revolves around self-awareness.
When I began writing, I’d only write when I felt the urge. Fortunately for me, that was a fairly continuous state, but for many bloggers, it’s not. This is particularly true for the beginning blogger who’s striving to build an inventory of great content, but after an initial flush of inspiration, finds themselves scratching for ideas, and creatively burnt out.
As you’re beginning, and getting a feel for either blogging itself, or your topic in particular, you might do well to try to write multiple posts at those times when inspiration strikes. If you’re feeling psyched about your topic, don’t spend three hours honing one post: spend it drafting five posts. Then, on the days when you’re not feeling so creative, spend your time honing and publishing that store of articles, tiding your blog and your readers over with consistently great content until the muse returns.
This approach keeps you engaged with your blog and your topic—you’re working on new content every day—and can significantly boost your post quality, since you’re reviewing drafts with those fresh eyes that writers and editors are always talking about. It also keeps readers engaged, and returning.
If you can consciously tune in to your inspiration, you’ll come to know what it feels like, and understand the capabilities that come with different degrees of inspiration. Will you get three posts from today’s inspiration, or ten?
This approach really comes into its own as your blog becomes a longer term project.
If you’ve monetized your blog, or established a strong following, you may well find that you have more of an investment in it—and in producing great content for it. Without content, your income will drop, and your audience will be disappointed. Suddenly, writing when the mood takes you won’t seem like such a viable proposition any more. And with that thought comes a new kind of pressure.
Many bloggers struggle at this point, because posting becomes a monetized task—it becomes work, and an obligation—and the sense of creative fun that writing used to hold suddenly seems to disappear. But if you’ve taken the beginners’ approach I outlined above, you’ll have a strong chance of getting through this phase, to reach a point where you can produce a reliable stream of quality content on demand.
You’ve spent your first months or years of blogging learning what the creative urge feels like, and what it makes you capable of. You’ve also been developing your creative muscle and learning the techniques and skills that make your writing great.
So you have a rich store of experience, knowledge, and inspiration to fall back on. You also know what you’re capable of, creatively speaking.
When you sit down at your desk to write, you’ll know if you’ve got zero articles in you, or twenty. You’ll be able to manage the ebbs and flows of your creativity. Most importantly, though, you’ll be able to rely on your knowledge and skill—rather than heaven-sent inspiration alone—to produce excellent content.
You’ll know that all you need is that 1% inspiration to kick you off. After that, the work of writing the post is all perspiration: technique, concept, and skill.
Do I write my best work when I’m inspired? Who knows? Over time, the idea of “creative inspiration” has become immaterial. I just write. I know when I have a wild rush of ideas, and I know when my mind seems more suited to the more predictable work of editing and polishing my content. But through the process I outlined here, the magical, mystical quality of “inspiration” has been replaced by the more sustaining notion of reliable output—output being, by its very nature, creative.
How do you manage the balance between inspiration and obligation when it comes to creating content for your blog?
This is a great topic, and one I constantly struggle with.
Since I balance writing a blog with being a stay at home mom I find that when I do have inspiration the best thing to do is focus on it as soon as possible. That may mean ignoring the dishes for awhile, but that’s the price we pay.
I find that when I have time to focus I often spend the first hour overwhelmed by my obligations, but once the creative juices start flowing it’s much easier to keep going-and not having little people interrupt every 5 minutes only fuels that.
Kelly – love what you said about focusing on the inspiration as soon as possible. This is so true for me, as well – and when I ignore it, thinking that I have more important things to do than sit down and write, the inspiration is then gone when I DO “have the time”. Good to realize this and figure out how to work it in with everything else that’s going on. :)
Inspiration comes when you start working hard. If you’re struggling, you’ll get off to a slow start, but thoughts and words will lead on to more thoughts and words, and before you know it, you have a post written.
Definitely identify with that; the more you write the easier it becomes to produce a quality post.
How do you manage the balance between inspiration and obligation when it comes to creating content for your blog?
My site has been running since 2008, what I have done over time is tapped into the steady supply of creative individuals on twitter that enjoy making an illustration for the site in return for a link or plug to their site.
This is a massive help when I have no ideas for what to publish on the site and it also is great for promotion as each illustrator usually knows around 1,000 other designers across the world to promote the site post to!…
I find being creative difficult, however, it is easy to talk about real life, that is why I am immersed in what I talk about via books, blogs, and most importantly, people. I blog and write about things that have really happened and things I have learned from other people, makes it a lot easier for me at least
If the inspiration is there I write, I write when it isn’t there as well. I find visiting other blogs a real inspiration, you can get some great ideas or put your own twist on a subject.
I find having a clear plan for my blog helps, pillar content mixed with ramblings can keep your readers captivated.They never know whats coming next.
I think it is really down to the individual. If you are going to post daily, then do it, if it’s 3 times a week then do it. Have a clear plan and stick to it.
Thanks for these suggestions, Georgina. I do want to point out, though, that bloggers who are juggling multiple obligations don’t always have the luxury to sit down and write five posts in a row even when the inspiration strikes them. They may only be able to blog during lunch hours or an hour before work or an hour before bed.
I’ve personally found a few techniques very helpful in keeping the inspiration for ideas going. I’ll glance at the table of contents to books on my topic (you can even sometimes get access to those in the previews on Amazon) and pick up ideas from there. Seeing the topics they’ve covered in their books helps me understand topics that I should probably cover on my blog. I also add my own ideas and cross them with other ideas. For instance, I write about emotional abuse, and a chapter in one of the books I have on the subject talks about alcoholic parents. The writer doesn’t talk specifically about parents who do drugs, but I’ve had experience with a drug addict, so one of my ideas is to write about emotional abuse and parents with drug addictions in particular.
Another thing that helps me come up with ideas is to regularly be reading up on my topic. I set up a Google alert so that I can pick up on new articles in the field, but obviously reading other blogs, news sources, forums, and so forth work as well. I’m constantly jotting down ideas to write about from my reading. Some don’t fly once I actually sit down and try to write about them, but again, at least I’m not starting on empty. I don’t have oodles of time to read these things, so I set aside a couple of hours on a weekend day. That usually gets me at least a few good ideas for the coming weeks.
I also make an editorial calendar. This doesn’t actually have to be all that formal. The idea isn’t so much about writing particular posts on particular days, although you can play around with that. For instance, I wrote a post on gratitude a few days before Thanksgiving because that seemed a good time to do it. It’s more about throwing out a bunch of ideas at once so that you’re not starting on empty every time. I usually do three weeks in advance, which comes out to about 8 or 9 posts. Some do it a month or more in advance, but I find generating about 10 ideas at once is a good number for me. Incidentally, there’s a lovely free WordPress plugin called Editorial Calendar at http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/editorial-calendar/ that lets you do this more easily. (Note: I’m not in the least affiliated with the plugin’s creators; I’m just passing along a useful tool.) :-)
Nice article. Sometime we are creative when there is no inspiration at all and at some other times we are so inspired but nothing strikes our head. It will be great when both inspiration and creativity come together. But it doesn’t happen so often, hence we have to make use of either the creativity or the inspiration, whichever comes in.
Thanks for the excellent article.
The timing of this article is awesome. I was just thinking about this two day ago!
I believe we create our best content when we’re inspired and excited to write. When we feel like it becomes a chore, and trying to just force something out, it can certainly be noticed by readers.
Does that mean that we should only write when we’re inspired? No, learning to write in those “off” times is an important skill as well.
Personally, my head is always filled with ideas, so I don’t have trouble thinking of new content.
However, it wasn’t always like that for me. In the beginning I had to push through bouts of boredom, frustration, and lackluster ideas before I could develop that flow.
Some things that help:
1) Read other blogs – consuming other people’s content can help spark new ideas. Maybe you find something you disagree with? Why not write some content in response?
2) Write anyway – even if you don’t have anything particular in mind, I say write anyway. No one says you have to publish it – just write, and maybe a good idea will emerge form that…or maybe not…not big deal.
3) Consider everything a source for creativity – you never know where a good idea will come from. Keep your eyes peeled no matter where you are. Carry a notebook around or a voice recorded to help catch those ideas in the moment (before they fly away forever).
I am finding that for me writing everyday is more effective. I do have times when I am more creative and I act on those moments.
One of the things I have found very helpful is to act on ideas, I may not have the time but I will take 10mins and get the core of the idea out. Then when I get a chance to come back to it I have the idea centered and then fill in the details. This helps a lot and allows me to act on the inspiration when I have it. Thanks for sharing!
When you want to achieve something (and especially when money is involved) it is a strategic mix of inspiration, obligation and perseverance. Sometimes when you wait for inspiration it never comes. This is why you have to strive non-stop. It is often said that you should be ready when an opportunity knocks at your door and the same happens with blogging success.
Contrary to what Georgina has mentioned it is easier to be more creative and productive when you have crossed a certain threshold of success because you are more relaxed and there is a ready-made breeding ground. You can get so many ideas simply because they are so many people eagerly communicating with you all the time. Even if content creation is a problem you can get different people to write for your blog just as this blog occasionally publishes guest blog posts.
In the end it’s all about habits. For example, if we had to sit and wait for the “right” mood to get out and exercise perhaps we wouldn’t exercise at all. So, first comes inspiration combined with motivation which results to action and creativity which then creates more inspiration to carry on until it becomes a habit
Very nice rundown, Georgina.
Personally, I’ve only been blogging for six months, but I set up a very aggressive daily editorial schedule, so I’ve got a lot of information up there and I haven’t yet noticed any lack of ideas or struggles to produce.
However, I did have one major setback near the end of September where a host of personal and family issues as well as a busy client schedule swamped me and the blog suffered.
Interestingly, I had done as you said, pre-writing a large number of posts while I was able, and relied on them when things got tough. But then, when I started running out of pre-written material, I found my well was dry.
So, I’ve found consistenly plugging along on my daily schedule provides the perfect mixture of inspiration and obligation. At this point, I have ONE additional post written and prepared in each of my categories, just in case an unforeseen circumstance robs every available writing moment for the day. Other than that, I’m riding the edge.
Thanks for a great post!
Writing every day is a great habit to get in to, but you don’t have to publish every day.
Either write for its own sake, to hone your skills, or work towards a larger writing project. This is something I’ve been quite bad at — starting a fairly big project and thinking it has to be finished in one sitting. The solution, for me, is to have a number of projects running, at various stages of completeness, so I can still publish on a regular basis without having to rush any one to completion.
That is such a GREAT point, Andy: “Write everyday but not necessarily publishing”.
Oftentimes we write with the attitude that we have to publish everything, which can cause us to put unnecessary pressure on ourselves.
If we simply write, and allow the ideas to pour out freely, then go back and edit and sculpt the writing, I, for one, generally have a much more enjoyable time of it.
I’ve recommended the stockpiling approach to my own copywriting clients, and I use it myself whenever possible. The only point I would add is to make sure you’re stockpiling “evergreen” information that applies to all seasons and circumstances, rather than time-sensitive material with a limited shelf life.
I tend to agree with Matt and Steven. I am always full of ideas and I look around me, in the news, in other blog posts, in conversations with friends..anywhere I can be drawn to a new idea or perspective that is aligned with my mission. I also take notes as ideas pop into my head, often at the most unlikely times, and keep a small notebook on me at all times. Finally, I do “stockpile” posts and post outlines for times when I don’t have the time or inspiration to create a new post.
Thanks for everyone’s ideas and input!
Right, same here. Ideas seem to be bubbling up to the surface virtually at all times. It can be pretty daunting to try to make sense of it!
Having ideas is not the same thing as the urge to create a piece, whatever the length or topic, are certainly different animals.
Ultimately, I find that it is better for my heart and gut to write something, anything, and not publish it, than it is to not write anything at all and just go and sulk somewhere.
I am a father of a one year old girl and it takes a lot of attention almost all the time. I often feel an inspiration but right that moment I am not able to put it on a paper and it fades away… :(
I would love if ProBlogger wrote an article: “How to be creative when you can work only 5 or so minutes just now and then”. :D
Okay, okay.. I sometimes have more time but I spend it on youtube in most cases ;P
I just recently started keeping a small notebook around me to write quick ideas in. If I’m laying in bed at night and a blog post topic or headline pops into my head, I grab my notebook and write it down before I go to sleep. I have one that lives in my purse, as well, so I always have it handy to capture quick ideas. This way, then I DO have some time to sit down and write, I have a collection of ideas to choose from, and hopefully at least one of them is inspiring in that moment! ;)
Just thought of this as I read your comment and thought it might help you, or trigger an idea that works even better for you. :)
I think it depends on who you are as a person. The trick is to be really honest with yourself. In life, are you more qualitative or quantitative?
Are you more likely to sit down to a half-pound hamburger and chili fries, or slowly dig your way through Alaskan King crab legs? Have you had a dozen or more partners in life, or just one or two really good ones? The only wrong answer is the untruthful one.
People that are generally qualitative or quantitative don’t do well forcing themselves to be something they’re not. Figure out what comes naturally and just go with the flow. I think it has been proven that both models can be highly successful.
Seth, this was an insightful comment! I especially appreciate your analogies to food and relationship preferences. There really isn’t a blanket method to balancing creativity and productivity. Writing is as individual as each of us is, and success at writing does hinge on self-knowledge so that we can harness our strengths.
Georgina (and Darren), can I offer a recommendation? The book – The War of Art.
For anyone who struggles to make a living in the creative arts – writing a book/blog, painting, music, etc. – this book should be required reading! The central concept centers on “resistance” – an invisible force that prevents most of us from fulfilling our unique purpose. The author provides the prescription for defeating this enemy, and also addresses the key distinction between the amateur to professional.
Without a doubt the best book I’ve read on the topic of “Inspiration vs. Obligation”, and for me it helped put to rest the argument over the “great creativity debate”.
When I write my article’s I just write from experience of what happen to me. So I guess you can call it real life it is easier for me that way. sometimes it gets kind of difficult to be creative. So me just writing from real life experience works great for me
This is a great question Georgina! It’s one that I seem to go back and forth on. I feel like my best articles are the ones that come from a burst of creativity, but if I don’t “prime the pump” at least semi-regularly then I won’t get nearly as many “spontaneous” ideas.
So it’s a nice balance to have, and I’ve been blogging for years… so another idea might be to stash your best ideas away for those days where you don’t get that fire under your butt to write. ;)
I’d go with inspiration any day. Never force (or let anyone) yourself to do anything. It only makes for frustration.
If you’re obligated to provide your readers with content, get some guest bloggers to provide content on the days when you can’t post. Write more on days when you’re really inspired and queue the content for when you’re not feeling it.
That’s just my take.
Having a blog has been a real challenge for me at times because I don’t consider myself to be all that creative. I write down ideas as they come to me throughout the week, then spend an afternoon taking pictures of all of the outfits I’m going to post for that week. Planning ahead definitely works better for me than trying to be creative every day! Thanks for the great article!
This post gives perfect advice on the day I just launched my new blog. As I mention on my about page, I’ve launched countless blogs and never stuck with any of them. Many times the niche has been too small and I’ve lost interest, so this time I have an open-ended theme. Right now, despite all the enthusiasm I have, I know that I’ll hit a wall and struggle with writing. But I think the great piece of advice here is using the days where you have writers block to fine tune existing posts, develop the layout of the post, and reconnect with readers. There is so much more to running a blog than writing new content…even if that is the important part!
This seriously helped me ease some stress but I’m still very stressed and writing is usually my outlet but not being able to write is really taking its toll on me. Hopefully I find something in here that can help me cross the line back into creative freedom.
I agree but I do feel that much depends on the theme. Some subjects require very much time to be addressed in the best way.
ty for thos post
Great post. The more you write, the more you learn to leverage insight moments.
It seems that when I’m reading books daily (which I’m always supposed to do) that ideas come much more consistently and in abundance than when I get lazy and go some days without reading books.
I’m sure this point has been made above, but it really, really is true: What you consume sparks ideas of your own. If you’re disciplined and read enough, you will never run out of ideas.
If, on the other hand, you get lazy and stop your reading regiment, then you’re in trouble.
This may sound crazy: But I feel like my reading habits are just as important as my writing habits.
After all, without great ideas, what good is your writing ability?
Takes a lot of self confidence as well
creativity is important in writing post.
This is an on-going battle for me. But there are a few occassion that obligation coincides with an inspiration. Yes, their few. But in those occasion, I immediately get fulfilled the instant I click the publish button. And gives the me the courage to persevere until I become fulfilled again.
Really helpful…thank’s Georgina.
Thanks for the great ideas and especially the motivation booster.
Yes, it is important to approach blogging as a daily commitment and then things take on a life of their own.
For me its a bit easier, as I read children’s books daily to my kids – so the inspiration is almost always there.
Read Aloud Dad
Writing everyday can at times feel forced. It takes away ftrom the creativity and makes the posts more rote=boring.
This will probably be debated until our last post turns into twinkle dust.
The secret is each of us is unique, each of us thinks and acts differently, each of us has a different combination of experiences, work habits and motivation.
Thanks for the tips–like that “creative muscle” phrase.
I’m debating this at the moment. I went through a period of 40 days or so when I produced a complete post a day. It was exhausting. I couldn’t keep that up and I don’t think it was great for my blog either because I didn’t have the time or energy to promote so much of my great work. Since then I’ve dropped to once a week and it has got so hard to manage even that. Writing is a habit, a muscle and so now I’m pondering how I bring some balance to it. Exercise it enough to keep it supple and strong but not so much that it breaks down, injured.
I love this topic! :) And really like the idea of writing several articles at once when the inspiration strikes. That makes a lot of sense and I think would work really well for me.
I’ve also realized that it really helps me to do my writing FIRST THING when I start work. If I put it off for later in the day, it’s way more likely that it won’t get done – even if I have a great topic to write about!
What a great article and follow-up comments. Lots to ponder here!
For me, the writer(s) mentioning self confidence hit the nail on the head.
And the notion that each individual is unique rings true as well. Self
confidence should come as successes (however small) start accumulatiing,
and motivation to tap creative juices should then result.
Easy stuff, eh?
I blog about acculturation and career reinvention, including fallout and recovery from career setbacks. Since much of my material is based on personal experience, I have to be cautious about not revealing too many details that could implicate a former employer or destroy my chances with a future employer. The need to navigate around privacy issues coupled with the pressure to produce can sometimes create writer’s block.
Reading through each of the comments thus far, I haven’t seen one that addresses this possible solution: Engage in something else that’s creative, and have it fuel your writing. In my case, I’ve taken up macro photography, specifically still life and nature. One blog practically wrote itself after I edited a photo of a peeled pomegranate and noticed how its flesh is made up of so many little individual sacs. I wrote,
“Are we better as part of something bigger than us? Or do we hit our peak potential only when we tune in to what makes us unique?”
Like many have I think this debate can go on forever..
I think putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and just writing can get you over 80% of the job.. in other words just start writing, don’t edit, and see what you’ve done in 20 minutes.
I think we write best when we’re inspired to write about something, but I also think that when we get that feeling of being “obligated” to write something, its probably the most important time to keep writing. We’re really just going through that dip where you can either keep going or give up.
The only way to build the creative muscles is to write even when we really don’t want to.
Also, if we’re building a business online, just thinking about the ways that an online business can help you do more of what you really want to do may inspire you enough to keep writing a bust through that “dip” period
Thanks for asking,
One of the keywords that I saw in the title is
I enjoy thinking about all kind of things, and writing is a way of being able to experiment with thoughts and shaping thoughts, because of that I also enjoy writing, some years ago I even did a Comphrehensive Writing Course and had the opportunity to discover a lot of different types of writing. One of the things that I learned is that it can be practical to work on several different (writing) projects, alway’s having several writing projects in various stages of developement. Some writing projects might ‘sleep’ for
a long time before they ‘mature’ into an actual finished project.
‘One of the advantages of this approach is that while working on a specific project
and run out of Inspiration for a particular project, you simply can start an other
This has the advantage that after a while, you can be in a totally different mindset and possibly
‘re-charge’ your Creativity and look at the previous project with a new fresh look, getting new inspiration for it again, and vice versa. That way with this switching from project to project (or taking a break doing something else, like a ‘Leisure Project’) being able to re-charge and emplify your Creative Powers.
That’s why I have several Blogs, to be able to be Creative, I only write when I enjoy writing on them and when I feel Inspired to write. I don’t feel obligated to write posts,
or use a specific tight writing schedule at all!
Writing fewer Posts even makes my Posts
more EXCLUSIVE :)
Not that you have to worry about, not finding anything to read on my Blog(s) that’s because I also have some ‘Third Party’ daily items that automatically get ‘streamed’ on several of my Blogs, I might even put on some Guest Posts once in a while in the future, besides I usually am pretty Inspired to write myself, especially since recently I actually begin to get more Comments on my posts.
Only please don’t write to many – Comments – otherwise I might
feel obligated to constantly answer your comments all the time :)
All the Best,
To your Happy – Blogging – Inspiration,
You’re right, Georgina, that when it feels like you have to, it doesn’t flow as well. The balance of inspiration to obligation can be tricky. I’ve learned to really kick it when I feel inspiration. I write down every idea I get in an idea file and write as much as I can, so I have a cushion to fall back on when the tap is only dripping instead of flowing. When I MUST write something, having that list of ideas gets me going. I can start with whatever I jotted down and start typing, and something always comes spilling out.
The articles that I write when I was inspired are not necessarily the ones that get the most hits and comments. Sometimes, the articles that I wrote for the sake of writing are the ones that start real conversations.
My point: writing is not really about our inspiration. It is about the inspiration of our readers. And that is more difficult to know. My solution is to just keep on writing, with or without inspiration.
It can be tricky trying to write every day – don’t I know it – and sometimes the odd day does get missed.
Like the idea of preparing posts in advance for those days when there is nothing but usually they end up going out the same day :o)
Reading other blogs (like this one) can be good inspiration though.
I write from personal experiences. I head out on an adventure, return tired and rest. While my body is resting my mind is busy. Once my physical energy returns, I start writing and continue until the adventure story is finished. I rest again then plan another outing.
Great, balanced way to look at this – thanks, Georgina!
I’m all in favour of would-be writers getting into a regular habit – and like you say, this is particularly important in the early stages. Good points about experience bringing the ability to know your own patterns and rhythms, too: it helps once you get to the stage of being able to distinguish between feeling burned out and just feeling lazy!
Excellent food for thought. I smiled when you said “you’ll know if you’ve got zero articles in you, or twenty.” Ha – so true! Even though I have hundreds of topic ideas in a nicely organized Word document, sometimes the truth is – I got nothin’.
I trust that it’s different for each of us, but for me – I pay attention to my energy and to what feels right in the moment. That’s when I write. That’s when I love writing. That’s when I’m having fun. But the times where I try to ‘force’ it, it just doesn’t work – primarily because I’m not enjoying it.
So to answer your question about balancing it all, my answer is for me to be conscious and pay attention to the “right” time for writing. Thanks for getting the discussion going about this important – and foundational – topic!
Some purely creative writers might be able to afford the luxury of writing only when inspiration hits but if writing is a business activity then I think it pays to treat it like one. If you put down wooden floors for a living and you only did it when you felt inspired to do so you probably wouldn’t make much money. The more reliant your business or website is on you writing, the less flexibility you have when it comes to choosing when and how much to write. Even when it comes to creative writing many successful novelists treat writing as a business and stick to a writing schedule to ensure they keep a certain level of productivity.
There will always be times and days when inspiration and creative energy are nowhere to be found. Everyone has days when they just don’t feel like going to work. Sometimes we force ourselves to do it and other times we give in and do something else. Unfortunately, working from home makes it that much easier to choose the latter option!
[…] could also be argued that writing for others makes you more creative, but several other talented bloggers have recently addressed that idea here on ProBlogger, so I’ll just point you […]
Very well-said! It seems like most Bloggers really do struggle between Inspiration and Obligation. Both can be done simultaneously. Once your inspiration kicks off, set aside what you are currently doing and work on with your article writing. Along the way, this inspiration will eventually become an obsession. Then sooner or later, the word obligation comes in.
Godspeed to all of us!