Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Life Feeds Your Words

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Michelle DeRusha, a Massachusetts native who moved to Nebraska in 2001. You can connect with her on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

The day my agent suggested I concentrate on three areas — writing, building a platform and strengthening my social media presence — I hung up the phone, determined.

Sunflower photo

Photo Credit: Hamed Saber via Compfight cc

That was the day I stripped what I considered all extraneous activity from my life:

  • I resigned from my book club.
  • I stopped running.
  • I told friends I was too busy to meet for margaritas.

The garden withered. The stack of paperbacks on my nightstand sat untouched beneath a layer of dust.

My relentless focus on writing, social media, and platform-building produced results. I finished writing one book and started another, launched a newspaper column, published five blog posts a week and grew my Twitter following. Google Analytics tracked a slow but steady increase in visitors to my blog.

I was pleased — until, that is, I suddenly had nothing to say.

Fingers poised over the keyboard, I stared at the blank screen, not just for an hour or a day, but for more than two weeks, panicked. I simply had nothing to write about.

The problem? I’d stopped living. And living feeds writing.

When he was writing Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez would awaken at 6 a.m., read for two hours and then write for five hours.

Marquez spent the afternoon at the beach with his wife and friends, and after sundown, he walked the city streets, talking to strangers and meeting with friends. The next morning he’d weave bits of those conversations and experiences into his writing.

We can learn a lot from Marquez’s routine. Sure, he spent a lot of time writing, but he also spent at least an equal amount of time living. Similarly, what I learned the hard way during my creative drought was this:

Living feeds writing… not the other way around. [Tweet that]

Here are a few easy strategies that have helped to fuel my creativity:


It’s the first activity on the chopping block when I’m busy, yet exercise is the activity most likely to produce good ideas, usually when I least expect it. Often I’ll dash into the house after a jog, grab a scrap of paper and, still sweating, start scrawling.


I try not to clear my entire social calendar, even when I’m on deadline. Margins are good when you’re a writer, but living like a monk with no human contact is not. Conversation fuels creativity.

Use Your Hands

I dedicate an hour or so each week to taking photographs, usually in my own backyard or neighborhood. I also like to weed the garden and paint walls and trim in my house. Focusing on a creative project or even a repetitive task helps to loosen the brain tangles and opens my mind to new ideas.

Step Out of the Box

Occasionally, I try a new “artistic” experience. A few weeks ago I attended a symphony concert for the first time in my life. I jotted notes on the back of the program during the performance and later wrote a newspaper column about it.

I’m not typically a classical music fan, but something about witnessing the energy and enthusiasm of the conductor and the musicians prompted a burst of inspiration.

The fact is, most of us probably don’t have the leisure to spend every afternoon lounging at the beach and every evening out on the town like Marquez.

But we can use simple, everyday experiences to feed our lives… and ultimately, our words.

Question: What tactics do you use to get your creative energy flowing again? Share in the comments.

About Michelle DeRusha

Michelle DeRusha is a Massachusetts native who moved to Nebraska in 2001. You can connect with her on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

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  • Great reminder, Michelle. Yes living does feed our writing. We need to live a story before we can write a story! Running is my thing. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like running and being outdoors.

    • I’m a runner, too, although sometimes I let it slack from time to time…and I can see a difference in my creativity. But yes, running is the #1 tool in my creativity bank.

      • I like that, Michelle. Life is definitely an interconnected universe. Seems everything really is connected to everything in our lives in some way.

  • I totally resonate with your post, Michelle. After about 12 years of woodworking, I finally collected some lessons that I got from the hobby. Thanks for the reminder to keep living while we write. You’re correct; it’s so essential!

    • Twelve years as a woodworker? Cool! Yes indeed, I’d say these lessons would apply to any creative endeavor, not just writing.

  • I’ve learned that I don’t need the several hours to write 1000 words when I’m engaged in life. The excitement and anticipation of getting to my keyboard reach a fever pitch, and I enjoy writing.
    So much truth in this, Michelle!

    • So true, Chad, so true. The writing flows much more easily when the living is feeding it. Even just sitting outdoors with my laptop helps – being in a different environment, looking around, soaking in the landscape.

  • Meredith Sings

    Excellent post, and so inspiring. While the goals and drive may produce the results needed, if the well runs dry there will be nothing to sustain it. Thank you for your candid honesty — it is refreshing, and exciting. I feel ready to tackle both my new adventure, AND the things that I have been neglecting — like exercise. Ahem. 🙂

    • I hear you about the exercise, Meredith! I just made a resolution to get back to running … and wouldn’t you know, this week the temps in Nebraska are in the high 90s – not great running weather! (but I’ve been slogging through it in the early mornings!). Good luck!!!

  • A life lived in the flow helps words to flow, fueling our stories with real and rhythm that can resonate with others. LIving is the best way to keep creativity going, but prayer also helps me, asking the Greatest Storyteller what He would have me write about. Thanks, Michelle, for sharing this inspiring and energizing piece. And thanks, Jeff, for hosting her post! Happy Friday everyone, with blessings…

    • Absolutely, Sheila. Honestly, sometimes I forget that. I sit in front of my computer, wringing my hands, and I forget to ask what God would have me say. Thank you for the great reminder!

  • Gary

    Michelle, this specifically is about writers (which I also do in a variety of venues) but i just wanted to comment that the same points excellently convey the realities that make for good pastoring (which I am). As the toast goes, “La Chaim” to life. Fully experienced life feeds everything interchangeably.

  • tim sprosen

    Wise words, thank you Michelle and Jeff. Recently discovered you and really enjoying. Great writing with great content. I have carried a small dictafone when I run to capture those new ideas without stopping.

    • Wow, a dictafone – you are high-tech, Tim! That’s cool. {and thank you, too, for the kind words}.

  • Beth

    Great post, Michelle, and hits home with my struggle to find words recently. But I know this is where God has me right now…living life. As I type I realize it isn’t really that I have no words because I’ve been journaling more but instead of a focus of putting them in a published form I’m more focused on capturing the moments. I’m slowing down and as I do He is changing and growing me.
    It’s so wonderful to see you here! Thank you, Jeff, for hosting Michelle.
    Blessings to you both.

    • Sometimes God has us in the in-between, as Jeff says, for a reason. And journaling is good, too. I often go back, flip through the pages of my journal and find something to write about later.

  • Razwana

    Hi Michelle. What a great post!

    I was recently reading of a gent who was working on his business whilst working in a full-time job and he basically gave up everything (a la your post) to dedicate his time to his job. Although he felt alone and rather depressed about most of his life, at least his business took off and he quit his job.

    He felt the sacrifice was necessary in the short term to reap the long term benefits.

    The very thought of doing this depresses me!

    I am sure sacrifices have to be made, but if you lose who you are and what makes your life, is it really worth it, even in the short term?

    And of course if you’re a writer, not having enriching life experiences is going to have an impact on your writing for sure.

    – Razwana

    • Absolutely, good point, Razwana. It’s a balance. I don’t spend all my time writing and engaging in creative/social activity to fuel the inspiration. I have two kids, a husband, a house to clean, homework to help with, etc., etc. And up until last year, I also had a day job, so there was that, too. It’s definitely a balance.

  • Michelle, awesome post that hit the mark for me today. You reminded me that the writer lives and writes about what we live. Cloistered in a serene setting while writing your international bestseller is a fantasy that we all hope for as writers. As I work on completing my first book, I realize that my best stuff has been penned while the chaos swirled around my life. The shocking truth is that I hardly complete any writing while in the ideal writing environment that most writers hope for. I write because I live in the real world:))

    • Chaos, indeed. I have two elementary-age boys, and I write right here in the middle of the sun room while they run around like hooligans. I’ve learned to tune out a lot!

  • Taking photos invigorates my creativity, too. I especially like to take them out in the great outdoors. Nature fuels my creativity, too. Great advice — we gotta live to have anything worth sharing with others.

    • Sometimes I scroll through old photos I’ve taken, particular those taken on vacation or outdoor shots, just to get a jolt of creativity going.

  • Marvae

    Michelle… I am right there with you! Exercise is when my mind gets rolling. I frequently come home after an energetic walk running for paper to jot down my ideas! Life is material. Without those experiences it is nearly impossible to write not to mention it keeps you more balanced and interesting too!

    • The writer Anne Lamott says she always keeps a pen and a tiny little notepad in her back pocket when she walks her dogs, in case she needs to jot an idea on the go.

  • I spend a lot of time outdoors, travel, play music, socialize at Starbucks, read, etc. In fact right now I’m on a short vacation from writing just to live a little more.

    • Awesome, Dan – enjoy your time away from the computer screen.

  • I ran too. The only exercise to get me physically mentally.
    Its straighten up my mind and back to life again.
    Its like a quote from D. H. Lawrence.
    “I like to write when I feel spiteful. It is like having a good sneeze.”
    Thank you.

  • Judy Blackstock

    True, true words. For most, it is only through living that we are able to write. Being open to a conversation with a stranger while standing in line, and engaging in the age old art of people watching can lead to many a fine story.

    • People-watching is a classic creativity boost – good suggestion, Judy!

  • There’s so much truth to this! I’ve had similar experiences of not really living, therefore, struggling with my writing. It’s amazing how exercise affects idea flow. Sometimes, I’m working out and have to run to my computer to type up a great idea before I forget it!

    • I have a bad habit of typing when I’m all sweaty – sometimes I sit on a towel, just to get the words down quick!

  • It is so easy to become work focused that we are compelled to quit the things that we view as not being productive. Yet we need time to just enjoy life. Thank Michelle for the reminder.

    I enjoy times outdoors, reading a book just for fun and just relaxing with family. Some of my best weekends are those with nothing planned at all.

    • Those nothing-planned weekends are rare, aren’t they, Jon?

      I love being outdoors, too – although not so much when it’s 98, like it is here in Nebraska today.

      • They are rare, but when they do come around we need to resist the urge to plan something. It is OK to not be “productive” all the time.

  • Lyn

    I stop trying for inspiration. I meditate, I walk, I exercise. I go out and entertain my vices and try to expel all feeling of effort and striving and seriousness. I call friends. I write long emails, or letters, to friends. I just stop, and step away and change the momentum.

    • I love that, Lyn: “I stop trying for inspiration.” That is genius.

  • Kimberly Weaver

    Well I am by no means a professional writer but I loved your article. Ever since changing my life I have had the desire to help and inspire others to change theirs. I write a blog and sometimes more then others. I aspire to write a book one day. Everything I write about comes from my life. My experiences, my feelings. If it wasn’t for those I can’t imagine having anything to write about. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel like that’s what writing is about. Sharing our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Helping to inspire and learn from one another.

    • Start writing that book, Kimberly! One sentence at a time, girl … you can do it!

      • Kimberly Weaver

        Thank you for your inspiration! I did it. I sat down and started my book. One word at a time. 🙂

        • You rock! Way to go, Kimberly. I just need to tell you, it took me two years to write my first book – in between my job and raising little ones and keeping the house from totally falling apart. I only had about an hour or so a day, usually in the early, early morning, so that’s when I wrote. But it was the best thing I ever did, not only because I wrote my first book, but also because in the writing, I found God.

          I am cheering for you!

  • Larry Kiewel

    Thanks I really needed this post. It reinforced the interactions of my life as I quit my day job, draw Social Security checks, and try to reinvent myself. Life supports writing. I live that.

  • Laura Harris

    Nice to remind writers that writing isn’t life. Sat down four times yesterday with different women to have coffee. I was amazed at how ideas ran through my mind because of our interactions. It’s much more important to be well-rounded…prevents burnout.

  • That tracks. I love it! Thanks for sharing it, Michelle. Thanks, Jeff for bringing this message to us!

  • Zech Newman

    Great write up Michelle. I run as well. Couldn’t agree more with your post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Martha Brettschneider

    This is exactly what I needed to read today, Michelle! I’ve been feeling guilty about not writing enough this summer. Like you, exercise and time in the garden feed my soul. I need to look at those as “inputs,” rather than wondering what I should give up. Off to meet a girlfriend for lunch now!

    • I totally get that, Martha – summer is a really low productivity time for me. I have two young boys who are home from school during the summers, so I’ve learned (the hard way) that those months are the time to focus more on them and less on the work (before they grow up and don’t want to hang out with me as much anymore!).

      • Martha Brettschneider

        Oh — I didn’t even include my two teenaged boys, who have very few summers left at home! Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that it becomes even more important to be available for them when they’re older??? Glad I figured it out before it was too late.

  • Hey Jeff,

    I just wanted to say thanks so much for having me here today. It’s a lot of fun to interact with so many readers!

  • Lynn Morrissey

    Michelle (as always!) this is such a fantastic post and also so thought-provoking for authors…..because (I find) we tend to be all-or-nothing in our approach. Well, maybe I should just speak for myself. Writing for me has been feast or famine. When I’ve written books, then all else–life! (relationships, in-depth time with the Lord, outings in nature, housework, and even on rare occasions, church) fell by the wayside, because, after all, I was on deadline. Then I would be so burnt out on writing, that I would try to cram in months of living to make up for lost time. Not so good, right? So I really understand what you are saying and thank you for giving such wise counsel. I would just gently add this thought: While I think it is true that living feeds writing, I (personally) wouldn’t go quite so far to add, “and not the other way around.” I acutally do think that writing also feeds my living. When I am writing, I am living twice. When I am writing, I am often processing the life I am living to better understand it. When I am writing, I am becoming far more attentive and appreciative of the life I am living, noticing its beauty and intricacy, honoring it by recording it. When I am writing, I am tangibly underscoring my personal life motto that “a life worth living is worth recording.” And often I realize that if what I am writing seems empty then maybe the kinds of days I am living are vapid or frenetic and I need to add richness to my experience. Also, and most important, when I am writing to God, to the Lover of my soul, as I journal my prayers to Him, I am receiving His strength and perspective to live my life in such a way that pleases Him and will give me something valuable to write for others. AS USUAL (brother!–forgive me), I am waxing far too long again! So, to sum it up, I am hardly disagreeing with you, but simply saying that I think that writing and living are one continual, flowing circle of beauty and experience. One flows into and feeds the other, and they never stop. I’m not sure they can actually be distinguished. God bless you Michelle for living to the hilt for Him and then for taking time to share what He is teaching you. I think you are living your life well and writing it well also!
    Blessings and love,

    • I could not agree more, Lynn. Writing has SO helped my relationship with God. I seem to miss so much in my harried daily existence – writing helps me go back, “re-see,” and understand how God was, in fact, speaking to me in certain situations. In a way, writing is a re-living for me. And it’s also a way I communicate with God. In a lot of ways, my writing is my prayer.

      Thanks for coming by, Lynn – I ALWAYS appreciate your insights.

      • Lynn Morrissey

        This gives me goosebumps, Michelle. I am soooo excited about hearing how you communicate wtih God in writing. This is so life-changning, and I also agree that writing itself can be prayer. CanNOT wait to read your book! Praying about that!

  • This article has me spellbound and I’m sensing a theme in your words. Most recently I took the initial step of getting serious and organized with regards to my article query work and promotion. I have a talent for marketing and social media but I always felt a need to strengthen my writing. In the midst of all of my personal problems you have really inspired me to remember to “stay alive by living.” I see so many themes and topics in my everyday life and I waste it into the wind. Thank you for your post. Truly a great topic.

  • Jeff – thanks for hosting Michelle. Well played, sir 🙂

    Michelle – thanks for this. I only needed it last Monday 😀

  • Michael Young

    Wow, thank you. Needed to hear that.

  • Katie

    You articulately and exquisitely nailed it again, my friend! Thank you for being you and for sharing you:)

  • Amanda {The Savoury Soul}

    This one hit close to home. I tend to do just what Michelle said, let everything else go but one day i realized my best ideas come to me when I’m living my life and its something I often tell clients. I carry a little notebook around with me and my notepad on my phone is full of ideas.

  • Debra Bacon

    Beautiful: “Living feeds writing…not the other way around.”

    I have shut myself in for too long this year after a surgery. However, recently I have started getting out more. I find when I am riding along a country roads in Texas, inspiration flows.

    Thank you for sharing your reality.

  • Eric

    Excellent reminders, Michelle. Thanks! My first thought as I was reading your post was Julie Cameron’s teachings in “The Artist Way.” You have to “feed” the creative well, with “artist dates” and other adventures in your free time. Otherwise, you find your “well” has run dry. -Eric

    • Perfect example, Eric – I love her idea of artist dates. I loved her book The Right to Write, too – have you read that one?

      • Eric

        No I haven’t Michelle. But I am about to add it to my Amazon wish list. Thanks! 🙂

  • Megan Willome

    I read that about Marquez last summer and incorporated my own version of his routine into my life. Making time to swim and go out to lunch with friends and attend high school football games (tonight!) is what my life is about. And it feeds my writing. too. Also, Kristen’s got me cooking again, which is fueling creativity in unexpected ways.

    • Yes, Yes, I love cooking. There is something very meditative about chopping. I like to cook AFTER I write – it feels good to rest my brain and do something with my hands. I like to weed, too – about 10 minutes after I finished the “50 Women” book I went out to the garden and weeded the whole thing.

  • To maintain energy and keep ideas flowing, I strive for two things: maintaining balance in my life and ensuring variety. So far it’s worked great!

  • Debby Gies

    What a beautiful post. I can identify with so much of it. Writing is so much more than what it once was if we are to make a name for ourselves. I too have given up the life of leisure this past year to finish my book and have been working the last 5 months on building a platform, learning the biz and trying to squeak in writing time on my 2nd book. It is a full time occupation, much more than the 40 hour work week. They say we shall reap what we sow, so I will just keep plugging along. And yes, I make time once or twice a week to get out and I find it different talking with people now, the smallest things can somehow take on new meaning.

    • Don’t give up, Debby. It takes a lot of time, I know, especially the whole platform-building/social media part of it. And I’m not very good at that. But like you said, just keep plugging; the pieces will all start to fall into place.

      • Debby Gies

        Oh no worries, I’m far from giving up. The universe guides me and it seems when life throws another curve ball something else good seems to come out of it.

  • This was very convicting to read – I’ve found myself in the same trap. You have to set some boundaries and live well while you are hustling. I find I have so much more to say on my blog when I keep myself surrounded by new thinking, books, and spending actual time with people. Thanks!

  • So true. Thanks for sharing!

    In “On Writing,” Stephen King explores the same idea, urging authors to make sure they do plenty of LIVING. In his analogy (one of my favs), he talks feng shui, chiding the writer who too boldly pushes their desk to the center of the room. Stick it in the corner, he says, because “Life isn’t a support-system for art, it’s the other way around.”

    Your post was a great reminder. Also agree about exercise. My best ideas always came on bike rides!

    • That is my favorite book about writing – and I love that quote!

  • pastordt

    Good, good words, Michelle. Thank you!

  • You’re spot on. Excercise is the first thing I drop too (although I manage to simultaneously allocate more time to cake). I should know better, all the funniest bits in my novels are based on, or inspired by, real life events. What can I write about if I stop going out spying on people? Farmville?

  • I’m experiencing this very thing, Michelle. Working on putting “living” back into my days. Great post! Thanks.

  • Lori Schafer

    I run into exactly the same problems when I spend too much time holed up with my computer – no new ideas. My last novel was inspired by something as simple as a chance meeting with friends; my last short story by a phrase in a nonfiction book I was reading. Yet I’ve never boiled it down the way you have here. Thanks, Michelle!

  • Dubem Menakaya

    Love this! It’s so true, all my writing is informed by live experiences or ideas are triggered off by events and things that I see on my travels and meeting new people. It’s definitely something I’m going to keep up even when I think I’m slacking on creativity, thanks for the validation!

  • Katharine

    I always read my Bible. Amazing what stuff pops into my head from those pages…

  • Katharine

    Oh, also, I go outdoors at night and look through the windows at my house. I can see my life from such a different viewpoint that way. It looks better than I realized, for one thing, but also, I can see my life with me missing, a very spooky and very thought provoking viewpoint. I then can analyze my life better and can write about myself in the third person.
    It helps

  • Sue Neal

    Fantastic post. I walk and jog with my dogs, pull up weeds in the garden, go swimming, watch TV, meet friends…. Thanks for reminding us of a simple but crucial truth – if we don’t live, what do we have to write about?

  • Joan z. Rough

    What a timely post. I stopped living this summer to get a first draft done. Huge mistake. I’ve ended up with a pinched nerve in my shoulder from too many hours at the computer, feeling lonely, and need to get outta here! I’ve learned a lesson, big time. Now I take naps, see friends for lunch, get out of the house to see my physical therapist and hope I’ll be able to work in the garden soon and go on vacation next month. Don’t overwork. Get out and enjoy life.

  • I like to do a lot of walking. Sometimes I walk and listen to audio books and sometimes I walk with my wife, my kids or a friend. Walking for me is perfect because it allows me to experience the world and interact with others while at the same time getting the exercise that I need.

  • Charlene Woodley

    The post made perfect sense. As a total home-body, I now realize that it is what we consider the ‘little things’ that produce the creativity that we need to keep going. Thanks!

  • This is something I have always done, balanced writing with life. I travel, exercise, play music, take photos, read, and more. I go to Starbucks and socialize with a group of people who are mostly ten to twenty years older than me. There’s a book in that alone.

  • Here lies the frustration of a writer with a full time job. Building that “platform” is a full time job as it is. If I’m lucky I update the blog twice a week. But I’m (relatively) young and life is calling. It is definitely true that life feeds my words and not the other way around.

  • Carolyn

    Thank you! I often feel like I’m wasting time away from my keyboard. Now I recognize that an hour in the garden weeding or the DIY projects I enjoy in my home are providing nourishment I might not be aware of…

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    Oh my goodness Michelle! I really needed to hear this TODAY. I tend to chop everything out when I’m on a writing deadline. I sit at my computer and find myself looking at the clock…wishing I was out LIVING. Thank you for this timely reminder that living feeds writing. Of course it does! <3

  • Adam St. Pierre

    Awesome stuff Michelle. I have always found it fascinating that I can extract writing inspiration from so many different aspects of my life. The other day I climbed a mountain and knocked out a whole short story while I was on the peak lol. I actually recently wrote a similar bit on how writing feeds your brain, If your interested you can check it out here https://millennialbrainfood.com/good-writing-feeds-the-brain/.

  • Great post Michelle! I have been struggling lately, and I just couldn’t figure out what it was. This post hit the nail on the head as I did the same thing.

    Your post and a post by Michael Hyatt has encouraged me and inspired me to finally break out of my funk.

    I wrote about it here: https://jackiebledsoe.com/how-to-stop-missing-the-mark-as-a-family-leader/

  • Alice Kouzmenko

    I completely agree. You can’t just sit there and write, without any connection with the outside world, because it won’t work. I always run when I have writer’s block, because it inspires me. I stop and do something else, and wait for the idea to come. Great post!


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