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Writing Essentials: The Myth of Inspiration

In my notebook I have a sort of sarcastic list about what things are essential for a writer. So, before you launch into reading this, I think you should take note that I’m kind of only half-serious. Unless, of course, you read something that’s totally inspiring, eye-opening, and perspective-changing for you - in which case, I’m deadly serious, and I take full responsibility for whatever epiphany you’ve just had. Fair deal?

Now, on the list of ‘writing essentials’, I have written ‘the myth of inspiration’. 

The Myth of Inspiration. 

I suspect the picture at the top of this blog post is what spawned this particular essential. Before I started my Masters degree in Creative Writing, I was actually one of those people who waited for inspiration to strike, and sometimes I still am one of those people. Unfortunately, and this is something I learned rather quickly when I started my Masters, those people aren’t very good at meeting deadlines; and, when you’re writing for someone else, there is usually a deadline. And those deadlines aren’t as flexible as the average writer would often like them to be. So I started to see it as something like an urban myth that you needed to feel totally inspired and moved and ‘in the zone’ to write something - while it certainly does help, I don’t actually know how essential it really is.

Now, I’m sort of paraphrasing here because apparently none of the Google searches I’ve just thrown around are close enough to the original quote to actually help me find it. But, along the same vein Jack London’s quote, there is a further idea that inspiration isn’t the best friend of any writer - habit is. 

Stephen King - here I am, rolling out my little crush again - spends a certain amount of time writing every day. King has a set amount of words that he needs to write and that either takes half the morning, or the whole morning, but when he’s done those words he’s done, and he’s free to roam about the outside world as much as he likes until the following day. That isn’t inspiration striking; that’s habit. 

So, as a revision to this title, perhaps it should be Writing Essentials: Habit. 

My most recent writing project - my dissertation, which I’m finally coming to the end of - was driven by 85% habit and 15% inspiration. Okay, some of the things I’ve written in there literally came out of nowhere and even now, as I’m reading things back over for the final time, I still can’t tell you where some of that came from. However, while divine inspiration - or whatever you want to call it - might be responsible for a teeny chunk of what I’ve written, a big chunk of this project came from a ‘I’m going to write 2,000 words today’ attitude. And okay, it’s easier said than done because I know, I really, really know, that it isn’t always easy, feasible, or even possible to just sit down and write for a few thousand words on days when you really have nothing to give. But over the few months that I’ve been working on my dissertation, it became easier to have that attitude, because it comes coupled with a ‘It’s better to have a shit first draft than no first draft’ attitude. 

Inspiration is cool and all, but realistically I don’t know - maybe I’m too young and inexperienced to know - whether inspiration alone can sustain a writing career, or even one whole writing project. I’ve read so many quotes, essays, and books that push this idea that creativity breeds creativity - and I think I might have even blogged about on here, too. It probably sounds a little corny to suggest that the more you write then the more you will want to write and so on, but I think that sometimes it’s absolutely true. There is definitely some kind of creative buzz created by being creative so maybe the trick, rather than relying on inspiration, is to rely on habit, until habit itself turns into something like inspiration. Maybe, as writers - I'm being bold here and branding myself as a writer, whether I'm there yet or not - we need to condition ourselves into being inspired, rather than waiting for inspiration to come to us. 

But when the Muse does pop up - she will, because she just can't stay away - make sure you give her a kiss on the cheek and tell her that you've missed her, because irrespective of our writerly habits, I think inspiration will always play (at least) a tiny part...


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