Tired but inspired: how I find inspiration (and what I do when I get a case of the blank page blank-outs)

What to do when you’re feeling out of sync.

Tired but inspired: how I find inspiration (and what I do when I get a case of the blank page blank-outs)

There’s a quote I think of often by the late writer William Sommerset Maugham:

“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Maugham’s quote has resonated with me since I first read it years ago, and it has helped me overcome resistance time and time again. It’s also at the core of my answer to a question I often receive:

“How do you find inspiration, and what’s your process when you go out to nature journal in the field?”

The short answer: I find inspiration everywhere, but...the more accurate (and hopefully helpful) answer: I find inspiration everywhere, but sometimes, only after I’ve gotten started.

Like most of us, I encounter days where resistance stands between me and my objectives. When it comes to nature journaling, I most commonly face resistance one of the two following ways:

1. I’m tired, but inspired, or

2. I’m wired, but uninspired.

Tired, but inspired

You know exactly what you want to do, but you lack the energy to do it.

The problem: I was on an evening bike ride not long ago and was filled with inspiration. Spring had finally sprung, and I was encountering the single-largest variety of birds I had ever noticed in any one single observational session in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, I was also exhausted. I simply didn’t have the mental energy to pour myself into a nature journal page to the degree I desired. I brimmed with inspiration but was running on fumes. It was a classic case of tired but inspired.

The solution: I embraced the “something is better than nothing” mindset, knowing I would bike away happier if I at least tried, so I took out my nature journal with my only goal being to merely start, even if I had to stop within a few minutes.

That’s it. No rules. There was no minimum time requirement. No page completion requirement. No level of detail requirement. I gave myself advance permission to do only what I could do so long as I merely just did. I knew this act alone would, at minimum, help reinforce my broader nature journaling habit.

During this session, I was able to document the many different types of birds I was observing in a nearby field when two Barn Swallows (my favorite birds), landed right in front of me and just sat still for a while. I had all but begun sketching one of the two them when a friendly trail cat sauntered up to me request scritches, thus scaring away both Swallows.

Wired, but uninspired

You have no idea what you want to do, but you’re itching to do something.

The problem: I was at one of my favorite nature journaling spots, supplies in-hand, and ready to dive in to my nature journal when I got a bad case of the blank page blank-outs.

I had plenty of energy, but even though I knew intellectually that I was surrounded by inspiring things, I just wasn’t feeling inspired. I didn’t know where to start. This is where I believe a lot of people struggle and give up.

The solution: Inspiration didn’t magically wash over me right away. Luckily, thanks to W. Sommerset Maugham’s quote, I remembered I didn’t need to feel inspired in order to start. I began sketching the first thing that caught my attention: an old metal building in the distance contrasted by a field full of bright, lively yellow mustard plants.

Candidly, I was struggling in that moment to feel connected to this setting, but I knew if I just kept going, my brain would begin to process my surroundings and I would begin to notice them more intentionally. I decided to write down how I was feeling throughout various stages of creating this session’s page to let you into my thought process surrounding how my mindset shifted throughout this experience.

This particular nature journaling session didn't feel at all inspiring, despite the beautiful surroundings. To illustrate my inner struggle, I decided to let all the thoughts - even the negative ones - out onto the page to help you see what goes on in my mind on a bad day.

When you’re looking for inspiration in nature, a good place to start is to first just pause for a bit with the moment. Look around, listen, smell the air, feel the temperature. Let it all soak into you like a dry plant receiving a much-needed watering. Absorb it.

What’s standing out to you? What are you noticing about something you’re experiencing? Write that down in a few words. Do you see something you’re wondering about? What are the questions? Try looking at, listening to, or feeling something more closely. The more attention you give, the more interesting and inspiring something oftentimes becomes.

Write and/or draw these observations into your nature journal. None of it has to be perfect. It doesn’t have to look good. Don’t think of your page as something you’re making to show to others (that can add undue pressure). Think of your nature journal as the record you’re building to make meaningful connections to the world.

Tired and uninspired

You may or may not have already faced a case of the blank page blank-outs. If you have, it means you’ve been trying, and that’s amazing. You might even be familiar with what I believe is the worst form of resistance: tired and uninspired. For tired and uninspired moments, only you can gauge whether you’re open to trying to take out a journal, but I use these harder moments for getting in my pencil miles and practicing mark-making, experimenting with watercolor effects, making random doodles, and just letting loose on the paper. Personally, my favorite form of play is working in a sketchbook, so even if I don’t have a selected subject in any given moment and/or am feeling drained, I still manage to doodle and play in a sketchbook at least for a few minutes each evening.

I promise that with practice, the process does get easier. My hope is that my sharing about my own personal experiences helps you remember you’re not alone, and the more comfortable you become getting started even when you don’t feel like it, the easier it becomes to break through the friction on demand.

Resistance/friction/lack of inspiration/the blank page blank-outs likely won’t ever go completely, but they become more manageable...and they always feel wonderful to overcome with a moment spent in your nature journal.