Advice · Opinion · Writing

What Inspiration Is Made Of

Writing only when you’re inspired vs. just doing your job is an argument writers hear constantly. We see it in advice posts from one side or another that inundate us with pros and cons. Un-inspired writing is forced and painful! Just sit down and write or you aren’t a writer! Smug responses about from full-time writers in both camps.

My perspective? I agree—with both of them.

That said, I only write when I’m inspired.

Check that. I only write my novels and short stories when I’m inspired. Thank you letters? Emails to maintenance? Resumes? Yeah, I do those no matter what, because they’re words on a page, not ~writing~ in all its glorious wonder.

The big stuff takes inspiration. Yes, even blog posts. I only write blog posts when I’m inspired. Considering I post three times a week, rain or shine, this will tell I’m inspired all the freaking time.

I have the luxury of that: writing is what I do full-time. It’s my job.

“Aha!” I hear. “At the top, you said the two sides are write when you’re inspired vs. sit down and do the job. This is your job! You’re sitting down and doing it!”

Yes, I am.

And when I taught English as a foreign language, I was inspired to make beautiful worksheets. When I was a newspaper girl, I was inspired to walk at a comfortable pace and greet people. At the State Park I was inspired to be helpful and to make little signs. At the radio station…okay, I admit I wasn’t very inspired at the radio station, that place was a dark hole, but this all brings up a better question: what is inspiration?

To me, inspiration is that bubbly, dreamy feeling of a bolt from the blue. (No, not a mixed metaphor.) It comes from the subconscious and it overwhelms the mind, drowning it in nothing but that idea. I can sink into this pool and all else ceases to exist. This is where my best scenes come from. This is where all of my short stories come from. This, this is the magic.

It used to be very rare. When I was teaching, my motivations were split. I was more likely to get an amazing idea for a game, or a worksheet, some sort of lesson—the thing that I spent eight hours a day on no matter what. That was great for my job, but it wasn’t particularly good for my writing. Only rarely would I be inspired to write eight thousand words here, a short story there. If I was pulled away from it too quickly, or too distracted, the fresh ideas would wither and molder until they were gone.

And to me, that was how inspiration worked: hare today, goon tomorrow. I wrote at a pace of about fifty-thousand words every six months, and I didn’t expect that number to ever go up.

That was okay by me, because it jived with what I knew of publishing (i.e. not much), that a book a year was all I’d ever get anyway. Sure, I had seen writers who could put out 100k pieces in a few short weeks, but to me they were amazing people who lived in the realm of dreams. Certainly not us normal folk.

I’m not too sure about that anymore. While I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo, I think that event shows us one incredibly important thing: most writers, when it comes down to it, can put out the words when we need to.

But are they inspired ones?

Once again, this question crops up: what is inspiration? Or better yet: can inspiration be manufactured?

Yes, yes it can. And that’s where the only write when inspired and the sit and write camps implode. They’re talking about the same thing. They’re talking about drinking water only when it rains. They’re talking about making it rain. So combine the two and what do you get?

This is a blatant reference to Kristen Lamb’s Rainmaker post, but it’s also something I find to be true. My writing is junk if I’m not inspired—it’s total trash—but all that means is I have to go out there and get inspired. Don’t wait for clouds to form, get out the drums and summon them! Do what it takes to get you there. If that’s listening to music or taking a hot shower or watching a deep movie, do it, and do it often. Make it rain.

And then drink until you cannot anymore.

Some days it won’t work. Some days, there is no moisture to be found for a hundred miles. Those are what we call editing days.

“But you have a blog,” I hear you think. “So you must do it every day!”

Y’all, the bulk of this post was written in January. It’s February now. Because I post on my blog so much, I’m constantly saving up post ideas for the days when I’m running on empty, or busy, or tired, or a million other things. I’m saving up rain barrels. (This metaphor goes really far, doesn’t it?)

There are still times when the deluge comes out of nowhere, and those are undoubtedly the best days. The storm clouds gather without warning or help from me, and either I can stand there with my mouth open, or I can hide in the basement. They are the best, but they are also infrequent, so I take advantage of them.

Only once have I ever hidden, because I did not want to write that story. Did. Not. That was months ago and the urge has died down, but I can bring it back anytime. Because here’s something I’ve found:

The rain that has fallen can only be spent, not lost.

Or, to put it another way: if you have a good idea, it doesn’t go away. The idea stays thought, and you can use it or not. So sit at your desk and do it.

Inspiration is a tangible asset; manufacture it. Put on music and take a walk, a hot shower, a run. Get your body moving and your mind contemplating. Lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling. Make lists, post-its, voice recordings. Grab those ideas and pin them down!

If you utterly cannot make a certain story happen, you should probably try a new idea. But either way, put the time aside and do something. Because bolts from the blue are nice, but the ones from the clouds are more frequent.

Really, when you read an article about writing when inspired vs. making it happen, you’re hearing someone argue the pros for eating protein or eating carbs. At the end of the day, you need both. Prolific writers write when they are inspired, and to do so, they get to work and make inspiration. That’s how 100k words a month happens. Or fifty. Or twenty. Or more than nothing.

Not just me, you. All of us.

It’s a Saturday today, when most of you are off work. So take a few hours, get out the drums, and make it rain.

4 thoughts on “What Inspiration Is Made Of

    1. I definitely have days where it just won’t happen, and I try not to force it. At the same time, I find most days I can manufacture inspiration if only I put my mind to it and turn out pretty good copy. Up to standard, certainly. That’s where most of my blog posts come from. Bolts from the blue I definitely reserve for my books.

      Thanks for reading!


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