I believe this to be generally true: If you wait to feel inspired by bigger things every time you write, it’s likely you will never get much writing done. But I don’t buy into the common belief that inspiration is for amateurs.
I have a very workaday approach to writing that I’m sure comes from jobs in warehouses and factories when younger…where you work even if you’re hurt because you have no other options. But with writing fiction, I do have other options — I don’t have to write fiction in the same way I must be a technical writer to pay the bills.
Still…a little inspiration every now and then never hurts…
Ass in Chair
I don’t need to feel inspired in order to write; in fact, I’m sure at least 1/3 of the writing I’ve done over the years was written when I didn’t want to write at all. A long day at work or something else tiring makes doing even more work an exhausting notion.
The work gets done by doing it, though…so — especially on days I don’t feel like writing — the sooner I write, the sooner I can relax.
Ass in chair + words on a screen or page = progress.
But as blue collar as my approach to writing might be, inspiration still plays a role in what I do.
A Daily Reminder
I’ve shared many entries, here, talking about how artists inspire me (many of them coming from the Muddy Colors blog).
I go back and listen to old episodes of the Otherppl podcast on a fairly regular basis.
(Other times, it’s just being up early or late and thinking about all the other people with busy lives writing at the same time I’m doing the work.)
I’m also inspired by music, nature, and too many other things to list. To claim inspiration doesn’t play a role in the writing I do — to make it sound like I’m a writing robot — is disingenuous.
I may wake up and write sometimes hours before making coffee, or go into automatic writing mode on my lunch breaks, but even that is a thing I do because I’m inspired by the act of simply doing the work.
The Importance of Inspiration
The world can be a rough and ugly place. At times, inspiration is a defense against everything outside: the day job you’d not be doing if you could only do the thing you most love full time; the schedules and rush of everyday life; the weight of a constant news cycle. Throw in illnesses and other hardships, and sometimes inspiration may be the only fuel we have…even if it’s just a reminder there are things we love doing when life seems to have the upper hand. During those times, inspiration is the ember we can count on to start the fires burning within.
Inspiration can protect us as well, like an old-school bathysphere keeping intense pressures from crushing us.
During the darkest moments of my life, when even the habit of sitting down and writing something — anything — wasn’t happening…the times I finally came back up for air, I filled my lungs with things that inspired me.
Those things shook away whatever crawled into my head and took hold. Soon, I remembered how there are always inspiring things I can count on to push me forward, even one simple step, until I returned to walking again on my own.
Inspiration can also be a trap.
I know people who spend more time seeking out things to inspire them than they do writing. It’s like they believe the right combination of inspiration will unlock an explosion of productivity, even though it never seems to work that way.
Instead of sitting down to do the work, it can be easy to go read about others who’ve already done it…imagining yourself with a completed novel, rather writing one.
Why write for an hour or two during a busy workday when you can find a couple inspiring things in minutes and then talk about them online, getting that rush of chemicals to the head that often feels better than writing alone at what often feels like a glacier’s pace of progress?
The point: there’s a fine line between seeking out inspiration and working. When it’s time to put in the effort, do the work — don’t look for inspiration because you’ll likely find what little time you may have taken up by the literary equivalent of hollow calories.
I’m hard-pressed to go a day without being inspired by something. It might be a bit from a podcast, or it might be a Carolina wren on the balcony searching for a bite to eat before moving on. But I also don’t rule out my own capacity to inspire others.
In most cases, work must be done to be inspiring. As limited as my audience for this blog and the stories I tell may be, I know what I do matters to more than just myself and my love for making things.
It’s not something to be taken lightly. No matter who we are, we have chances to have an effect on others.
If you can inspire someone to better things, you’ve done one of the best things in life there is to do…