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5 Tools To Jump-Start Your Writing

by Jennifer on June 22, 2010

By Paulo Campos

Your novel’s next scene or sentence seems blocked behind a blinking cursor.

The Internet’s a click or ALT+TAB away.  Chores (unappealing when you sat down to work) now really need to be done.  Some Netflix movies want to be watched.  Dozens of magazines wait to be perused.

When you feel uninspired, countless alternatives may feel better uses of your time.  They often seem like opportunities for inspiration.  An article in one of your magazines or a scene in a movie or a thought while you’re scrubbing the sink or a YouTube clip might seem like the ticket to get you back to work. 

But more often than not they’ll lead you away from your writing.

Before leaving your work to look elsewhere for inspiration, try looking through your own ideas.

No matter how frustrated I may be with a story, I’ve often found inspiration in my own untapped ideas from journals and scrapbooks.  Ideas are all over the place waiting to be put to use if I take the time to find them.

Here are five sources I’ve found helpful to get me back to work:

1) Current Journals

If you regularly keep a journal, read through what you’ve been writing about.  Journals are full of musings and anecdotes that were interesting enough to write down in the first place.  What do they seem like days or weeks later?

Your current writing represents what’s been on your mind.  A journal entry might trigger an association you wrote about, but haven’t connected to your Work in Progress.

Note: this works extremely well if you keep Morning Pages (as Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way advocates) because you’ll have tons of work to review.

2) Old Journals

These mines of humiliation may make you cringe, but can be very helpful.  Think about the differences between who you were years ago and who you are now.  What didn’t occur to you back then?  Or what did, but wouldn’t now?

Try applying the contrasts to your work.  Ask yourself:

  • What would happen if I introduced a character like young me to the story?
  • What would young me think about the scene I’m writing?
  • What would I need to explain to him?

3) Current Notes

A demanding, but effective, habit is to write down everything you think all week.  Whip our that notepad and write down anything that seems like an idea as soon as it occurs to you. 

Copy overheard conversations. Did your friend tell you an interesting story?  Write it down.

Notes are not nearly as fleshed out as what you have in your journal. Now that you’re procrastinating, go back and see what little things caught your passing interest.  Can you flesh them out in your work?


4) Blog Posts

Keep track of what you read about writing online.  Print exceptional blog posts and keep them in a binder or scrapbook close to your workspace.  You might find idea starters in posts that offer advice or list prompts that have worked for you in the past.

Do you have your own blog?  Look though your own posts.  How might they help?


5) Memorable Passages

Virginia Woolf kept detailed notes on what she thought about books she read.  She copied passages she admired or found compelling and often left specific comments so she wouldn’t forget why she had copied them.

Whenever you’re reading highlight passages that strike you.  Copy them into a journal specifically for this purpose.  Now that you’re stuck, flip through them. Obviously, don’t plagiarize.

 Look for an interesting word or description.  Other authors’ descriptions or dialogue may connect with yours and nudge your work beyond that pesky flashing cursor.


Back to Work!

These are a few examples of how keeping track of your thoughts and interests can inspire you to get back to work.  Digging through five or more is a lot of work. 

Find the one or two that work for you as a go-to resource.  Just a few mintues of paging through what was on your mind at some point can get you back on track.


About the Author: Paulo Campos wrote his first novel in high school but didn’t return to fiction until well into graduate school.  He’s since written three novels and a collection of short fiction.  One of the novels and the collection seem good enough to shop for publication and are being revised.  He was a recipient of Glimmer Train‘s “Best Start” competition in November 2009.  His first published piece of short fiction will appear in the June 2010 issue of THEMA.

He lives in New York with his wife and two suspect cats.

The journal image above is courtesy of  el clinto.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joanne Elliott aka soulsprite June 22, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Lots of good ideas. I often go back to my journal entries for inspiration, but I haven’t thought about blog posts I’ve read. Another source of quick inspiration is to look up the subject I’m working on or just a random topic that interestes me on the Net. I just have to be careful not to get lost for hours in the maze.
Thanks for the ideas!

2 Chase June 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm


When I try to find something I read online I can never seem to remember where it was posted. Quickly this turns into me trying to recreate the path of distractions that lead me to reading that post in the first place, and, (yes I know you guessed it) that leads to me getting distracted. All over again. Till the article I’m looking for is but a forgotten turn in my next adventure down distraction ally.

So, though I think rereading once inspiring articles is a good way to get the ball rolling, I think printing out inspiring articles is even better advice.



3 jennifer blanchard June 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm

@Chase Something that works extremely well for me is creating a Moleskine PDF (www.moleskine.com) of every inspiring article I find, printing it out and glueing it into my Moleskine notebook, which I use exclusively for articles that I want to remember. It’s easy to do and the PDF is perfectly sized to fit right into a Moleskine notebook. And having all the articles in one place makes reading them as easy as reading a book. Plus it’s super portable. A win-win-win in my book!

4 Sarah Callejo June 25, 2010 at 9:26 am

This is very inspiring in itself. I don’t keep a journal, but after reading this, I’m going off to a stationer’s to get one!!

5 Leslie July 30, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Not long after reading your post I was cleaning out some drawers (frittering…) and came across some old notebooks and a folder of partially written stories. I sat there on the floor and read through every notebook, and afterwards I felt the strongest urge to write again… couldn’t wait to get back to my laptop! Funny how all the inspirational books and articles never did a thing for me, and that in the end it was rereading my own notes and stories that finally spurred me on. Thanks for the great post! Good luck with your writing…

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