“I had an inspiration once...”

You wanted to write a novel, a short story or a play, a bedtime tale for your children, or perhaps a movie script.

But.

It doesn’t matter what followed that word or what stopped you from bringing your inspiration to life. It didn’t happen, and somehow your dream became “what might have been.” Maybe you read this column last month and thought, “I can do that,” and yet thirty days later the pressures of life and family and things-to-do derailed your plans once more.

This month we’re going to change that.

The good news is you’re not alone, and the better news is that your inspiration needn’t falter and die. You may think the dream is beyond you or that you haven’t got the time to make it work. Here’s a secret all successful writers know: nobody has the time. The difference between success and a dream is a choice to “make the time.”

But how?

Let’s take a look at eight different ways successful writers budget time and give substance to inspiration.

1. Carry a notebook everywhere. Jot down ideas on the spot so you won’t forget them or have to re-create them from fading memories. It takes only a few words to preserve inspiration. When you get home, transfer your notes to a binder or file you set up for “ideas in progress” so you can find them quickly when you decide to write. 

2. Any sixty minutes make an hour. Don’t let a lack of unified time become an excuse for failure. Many successful authors start out by writing in very small increments. Write during your break or lunch hour. Write for ten minutes before you go to sleep. You can even write during your children’s tests or while they fill in their worksheets. Remember: Parents can have homework too! At first you may struggle to focus, but don’t give up. Little steps still move you toward completion, and writing gets easier with practice.

3. Set reasonable goals. You wouldn’t start an exercise plan with three hours of running a day—why expect to write your first novel in a month? Unreasonable goals at the gym lead to failed fitness, and wildly aggressive writing plans fail too, especially if you don’t have hours to dedicate each day. Can’t manage a chapter a week? Try a chapter a month, or longer if necessary. Find a pace that works for you at first and increase it over time. Meeting your goals will renew inspiration and help you stay on track.

4. Find a writers’ group—or create one. Accountability encourages progress, and authors draw inspiration from interacting with other writers. Your group may consist of strangers, friends, or teenage sons and daughters with inspirations of their own. You can meet online or in person, once a week or once a month. The key is finding others who share your dream to provide encouragement, advice, and honest critique. The best writing groups consist of writers at different stages of experience and progress. Don’t be shy! Writers love to talk about writing, and any contact with other writers is better than walking the road alone. 

5. Say something now, and fix it in editing. Don’t worry about “getting it right the first time.” A completed novel takes several drafts and many hours of revision. The same is true of short stories, plays, and every other creative work. Editing during the writing process bogs you down and discourages completion. Remind yourself often: First drafts are for putting words on the page. Correction comes later, in rewrites and future drafts. You can fix any mistake—as long as you give yourself something to repair. 

6. Persevere. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Inspiration provides the spark that sends you off the starting line, but that early burst of energy won’t take you all the way to the end of the race. When you reach the middle—and inspiration flags—perseverance is key to reaching the finish line.