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Writers working on a novel generally know what they need to do next, whether they’re in the thick of writing their first draft, still in the research phase, or diving into edits and rewrites. There’s generally a sense of anticipation with all of these stages — where you’re anxious to see your vision realized, to discover what you characters can become, to get that next brilliant sentence down on paper or polished until it glows. But how do you get through the less inspirational parts of writing? When writer’s block hits, or you’re on draft number six and are wishing you could throttle your uncooperative protagonist?

Edan Lepucki has an intriguing post up at The Millions on how to find and keep your inspiration, including a fun homework assignment that she invites everyone to try. She’s even asking anyone who does to email her photos of their results. It’s a creative, fun way of rekindling your spark, and well worth checking out.

Even if you are a novel writer, it can be great practice to give some other format a try from time to time, even as just a writing exercise. Limber up your brain by trying to write some poetry. It will make you more conscious of language and of rhythm in your writing. Or work on a short story for a few minutes each day before you get to your main WIP. The shorter format requires very precise writing, where every word, every scene pulls its weight and then some — a wonderful awareness to have for any type of writing. If you aren’t a blogger, try writing a guest post for a fellow writer who is. Blog posts require still a different type of writing, the tone much more conversational, the goal being to engage a broad audience in a very brief space.

There are always contests open to writers, many of which offer publication to the winners. A few upcoming deadlines include Narrative’s winter 2012 story contest and Glimmer Train’s March fiction open. Poets & Writers has a comprehensive listing of deadlines for contests, awards, and grants on their website. Put one or two small projects in your work rotation with one of these contests in mind and let the change in pace serve as a mental palate cleanser of sorts.

Be on the lookout for new places to submit, as well. One Story is starting a version of their literary magazine for teens, One Teen Story. Young adult writers interested in writing short stories geared toward teen readers should check out their guidelines, and there’s also a contest for writers who are themselves teenagers.

There’s no telling what a little experimentation might do for your creative output. Open yourself up to some new ideas, formats and venues, and see if inspiration strikes. At the very least, you’ll return to your main project with fresh eyes. Happy writing!

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