To quote Yoda:
Must do if one is to write.
(Okay, so maybe Yoda didn’t say that…)
While waiting for inspiration is tragic, I’d still argue that as a writer, inspiration is important.
Why You Shouldn’t Wait for Inspiration
Writing is rarely an inspired act.
Most people who think it’s not sit down and quickly learn that it is. (This is why I always encourage people to write: they either do it, or they have a new appreciation for writing…usually the latter.)
Simply writing something regularly puts you ahead of people who talk about writing, or those waiting for creative explosions.
I’d bet the percentages of my moods in completing the first draft of my current novel look like this:
- Inspired Sessions: 10%
- Everyday Work: 65%
- Struggling: 25%
You put your ass in a chair and you write — even when you don’t want to. (Especially when you don’t want to!)
One Should Seek Inspiration
Once you know that writing can be a slog and that it’s rarely something you’ll do in an inspired frenzy like a movie montage where it all breaks free and flows like a river, you can take a breath. You can then look around and keep yourself in a bubble that I think is essential if you want to keep going.
To write, I think it’s vital to surround yourself with it. By that, I mean read voraciously. Stop reading at the lines that floor you and think about how that line came to be. Talk to other writers. Seek inspiration elsewhere. (Artists inspire me in ways writers can’t.)
YouTube is great. You can type your favorite author’s name and “interview” or “reading” and find stuff like this:
Obviously, writing is about sitting down and producing, but it’s a lot easier to do when living a life immersed in one of the things you should love more than most things in life if you’re going to do it well. Hell, I started this blog as an effort to keep writing on my mind — even when I wasn’t sitting down and piling up pages.
A Life Focused On Writing
While only about 10% of the time I’ve sat down to write have been inspired sessions (and I’d bet my percentage is higher than many other writers), I try my best to live by this advice by Haruki Murakami, who said he created a life that:
…placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing.
- I’ve turned down promotions at work because I knew time is more important than money to me as long as I have basic necessities covered. (I will not work a day job that becomes my life.)
- I’ve said “Nope!” to so many social activities because it was time away from writing time.
- I’ve turned down paying writing gigs to focus on what I want to write most.
- Most vacation time in my life has been dedicated to staying put (in part, because I won’t take promotions that offer more money in exchange for time and being able to afford actual vacations). When I have time off, it’s usually spent hitting museums with my wife, hiking, and doing other things we enjoy…and a whole lot of writing. (We’re finally planning to take a real vacation this autumn…the first in our almost 23 years together.)
(Obviously, I don’t recommend creating a writing life like mine; this is just what’s worked for me.)
If writing isn’t at least one of the top few things in your life, I suspect the likelihood of actually producing and having a chance at something more from your efforts is slim. It’s much easier to live a life that allows you to focus on writing when you seek out things that keep you thinking about it when you’re away from your desk.
What Inspires Me
When I’m not writing, these are the things that keep writing at the front of my brain:
- Books (obviously)
- The annual writing retreat
- A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment
- Otherppl with Brad Listi (This recent Stewart O’Nan interview is a great example)
- Nerdist interviews (Loved the Mike Mignola interview)
- The Paris Review interviews
- Quiet time on the couch
- And this quote by Tennessee Williams:
‘In the time of your life, live!’ That time is short and it doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read this, and the monosyllable of the clock is loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.
– Tennessee Williams (From “The Catastrophe of Success“)
So that’s what works for me…what about you?