Sunday, May 12, 2013

Stuff I've Learned: Don't Wait for Inspiration

In my last post, I touched briefly on inspiration, and that inspired me to devote a whole post to it.  (See what I did there?  It inspired me.  Get it?  Okay.  Moving on...)

Here are two quotes that I like about inspiration:

"Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working." -- Pablo Picasso

"You can't wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club." -- Jack London

I'd like to point out that while Jack London probably had an actual club that he used to chase down his muse while riding bareback on a timber wolf, you don't need a club. 

Might help to have a wolf.

I have clear memories of myself as a teenager sitting someplace picturesque with a notebook and pen, waiting for inspiration and not writing a single word.  I remember quitting story after story because I didn't feel inspired to continue.  Or not writing for days and days because the muse wouldn't come, and I wasn't in the mood.

I wish I could borrow a time machine and smack myself on the back of the head.

Yes, there are writers who only write when they feel inspired.  And if that works for them, great.  But the vast majority of people who only write when they feel inspired probably won't finish their novel at all.  Ever.

Don't wait for inspiration.

Inspiration is a slippery minnow in a silt-saturated stream.  You see it once, and then it's gone.  But that's enough to know that this stream has life in it, and you should plop your fishing pole into it and see what comes up.

You don't need to feel inspired in order to write.  Really, you don't.  Your job is to string words together in sentences.  You can do that job whatever your mood.  The words don't care if you're feeling lightning-strike joy or humdrum malaise.

I can practically hear someone out there saying, "But the words won't be any good!  If I don't feel inspired, the story will feel flat."

So what?  Say you write five pages of complete garbage.  Say you know as you write it that you're going to toss the entire scene.  Nothing in it is worth keeping.  Except that one sentence in the middle of page four.  Yeah, that one's not bad.  In fact, if you built a scene around that sentence instead, then the story could really move!  And if that other character said that bit of dialogue...  Hello, inspiration, I didn't see you come in.  I was just here busy working.

In my experience, inspiration is far more likely to hit if you're already writing.

If you show up at your desk to write every day, odds are that the muse will wander by to see what you're doing.  And if you don't... she's going fishing without you.

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At 11:41 AM, Blogger Kelsey said...

Love this post, because it's a lesson I've also learned recently.

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Priya Sridhar said...

You know the weird thing about inspiration? It's like a temperamental house guest. Doesn't call beforehand, likes to show up when you're in the shower, and somehow you can't help but reach out and grab for it.

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Kelsey: Thanks! I've really come to believe it.

Priya: And no matter how rude she/he is, you still have to serve cookies and tea...

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Katie Anderson said...

LOve this! So so helpful!!

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Alice V.D. said...

this is exactly the post i needed to hear. i've been using the 'inspiration' excuse for years and now that it's actually been pointed out to me, i'm beginning to realize how much its holding me back. thank you. i really actually needed to hear this /hugs/

At 2:06 AM, Blogger robi awaludin said...

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