On Waiting Around for Inspiration

“Inspiration is seductive and thrilling, but you can’t depend on it to call you. It doesn’t work that way. The good thing is, inspiration is irrelevant to whether or not you finish your book. The only thing that determines that is your own sense of discipline.”

This is a pep talk for all the NaNoWriMoers by Malindo Lo, and it reminded me of a passage from Stephen King’s On Writing, which I have been meaning to read for years but only recently delved into. He makes the same observation about inspiration, that you’ll be waiting around a long time if you put off writing in hopes that it will simply come to you when it’s ready.

I always find it interesting (and get a little jealous) when I hear an author say that a story came to them in a dream. It’s a lovely prospect, and makes it all seem very fateful and fortuitous. But for most of us, that inspirational dream never happens. The process, for me, starts with one ingredient. Maybe it’s a character trait, maybe it’s a sentence that I hear that just sticks in my brain and turns over nicely. Then I have to add other ingredients and begin the entire baking process, which often starts with an excited handful of pages and then progresses to slamming my head against the computer for the next 400.

This is why I don’t put much stock in the concept of writer’s block. It insinuates that you’re lacking inspiration and merely waiting for it to come back to you. It takes much of the agency of writing and creation away from you (and isn’t that the reason we love it in the first place?). Problems and puzzles are always going to present themselves, and they’ll stump us and frustrate us, but it’s our own sense of discipline, as Malindo Lo comments, that will get us through. We must always keep writing anyway, even if what we produce in difficult times is completely unusable. It’s all a part of exercising the writing muscle.

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