Let’s talk inspiration…
Fuck inspiration. We’re done talking about inspiration now.
Fine, fine, we’ll elaborate: If you wait for inspiration to strike before you start writing, you will count yourself lucky to average one page a month, and it will not be nearly as good as you think it was when you re-read it the next day. Then you’ll get discouraged and give up writing for a while, only to get inspired six months later and repeat the whole process. That’s a good way for a writer to avoid writing.
You can try to force inspiration by doing inspiring things – Hemingway went fishing, Hunter used drugs, Dostoyevsky had Tuberculosis – but that’s not ultimately necessary. Sure, I work out my creative problems and come up with my best ideas when I’m doing something besides staring at a blinking cursor. But those other tasks are not inspiring – they’re almost universally boring and monotonous. Mundane tasks leave your mind space to roam. Every great idea I have ever had has been conceived, refined, or tweaked while doing the dishes. Or in the shower. Maybe mowing the lawn. I think I had a good idea while cleaning the garage once – but even that was too thought intensive to allow for the right kind of brain rambling.
Further, don’t go thinking your hobbies are your inspiration. If you like sailing boats, or camping, or riding motorcycles, people will invariably ask if that inspires you.
If inspiration struck me while riding my motorcycle, the next thing to strike me would be a tree and I would die. If what you’re doing is inspiring, be present in the experience. Maybe you can draw on it later – but probably not. Because if you’re out doing inspiring things, you’re not going to have time to think about writing; to designate parts of the experience as muse-worthy while discarding the chaff. If you are thinking about writing while making love with exotic women or fighting bulls, then I assure you that you’re doing one or both of those things wrong, and you’ll either end up in the wrong hole or with a very wrong hole of your own.
Your own brain is your only inspiration. The only way to stir creativity is to practice getting your brain to work on the regular.
Externalizing inspiration is a sucker’s game. This is such generic advice, handily repeated a million times on every blog by every writer on Earth. And yet, I still get this one question more than any other: “How do you just sit down and write?”
The form of the question varies. Last year it was: “What is your inspiration?” Last month it was: “Where do you get your ideas?” Yesterday it was: “Do you find maintaining a routine is best, or just write when it strikes you?”
Here’s the answer to that last question: My own schedule is too hectic to allow for setting up a specific time to write, but I do budget an amount of time. I will write for an hour and a half today – whether that’s before work, on my lunch break, or later in the night may vary, but the amount of work I get done does not.
Here’s the answer to the unspoken question behind the question: No, there is no trick, or hack, or easy way to fool words into existing. Writing at exactly 8:55 in the morning, or only after surfing, or twenty minutes after taking two point four tabs of acid — it won’t help. Writing is a skill. Talent helps, as it does with anything — there are talented mechanics and talented pinata sculptors – but practice helps more. If you sit down and write right this second — even if you’re not feeling it — and you turn out garbage, throw it away and do it again tomorrow. It will be slightly better.
Until you die.