This is not at all the blog post I had planned, which does in fact perfectly coincide with the subject of inspiration. If one is to believe the usual portrayal of authors, then they only write when inspired, usually hacking away at a typewriter in a dark room surrounded by discarded foodstuffs as they distractedly run their hand through their disheveled hair. This is certainly a romantic image, but not what writing really is at all. Because writing, the actual act of it, is a discipline, something that you force yourself to do each and every day. It’s a skill as well, something you practice and get better at through repetition the same as any exercise. Yes, inspiration can play into that and make it a great and enjoyable experience, but inspiration is not a key component to getting your words onto the page.
Inspiration, on the other hand, is fleeting and cannot be conjured on demand. At least I haven’t found a way yet. Inspiration, to me at least, is that sudden incredible feeling when an idea just clicks and everything effortlessly falls into place. “Flow” is really the best word I’ve come across to describe it because it seems to be a fluid thing where the stars have somehow aligned and there’s a frictionless quality to it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described it in his book entitled Flow as the state when interest equals ability, which is an accurate, albeit dry, description of it. To me personally, I swear I enter an egoless altered state where there’s a sort of permeability to my consciousness where anything in my environment or recent reading/ research gets melded into the story idea. By way of example, I remember watching The Conjuring and thinking to myself, “evil spirits always kill the dog off first. What if the family dog is actually protecting the family from spirits every night and we never know?” This was around the same time I was listening to a podcast with the author of Frozen, and suddenly inspiration struck and these two concepts gelled together such that I was suddenly writing a family film about the loss of childhood in which an old dog finds himself no longer able to protect his family from gremlins.
I’ve mentioned before how the ego gets in the way of writing, which is why a lot of authors try to do away with their ego/ doubts through inebriation, and can’t stress enough how egoless inspiration feels. Which kind of makes sense when we consider how the Greek Muses were considered gods that bestowed inspiration to artists, because it really does feel like you’ve been blessed by some celestial being.
This Sandman story is probably the best and most chilling exploration of inspiration in my mind.
In reality, it’s most likely just your conscious mind catching up to what your unconscious mind has been chewing on for weeks. Inspiration is probably just the two working together for a short time before the conscious takes over again and relegates the unconscious to the realm of dreams. But I’m digressing again.
As I said in the opening, inspiration and writing are definitely not the same thing, and true writers force themselves to write independent of inspiration. In fact, inspiration isn’t really necessary for the writing process outside of initially planting the idea in the first place. If an author wanted, s/he could really just plug away on an idea they feel no emotional investment in, although it’s infinitely better to actually be inspired by the idea you’re currently working on. That’s what makes the writing a joy rather than a job. Because there will be times when your writing and inspiration will align and the words will flow from your brain to the page as if by magic, and you should savor those moments whenever they come.
But you should never let it stop your writing when they don’t.
Yet when inspiration does strike, don’t squander that moment. To wit, I’ve been finishing up that collection of short stories from Ayr, and although about a week behind my schedule, I took Sunday off to develop a new idea. Well, I guess it’s an old idea that I’ve never quite cracked. I’ve worked on it a few times, but the inspiration has never really been there. Which means it’s been hovering in my unconscious for years now, and on Sunday an offhand statement by my wife jog it loose and everything clicked into place. That egoless sense descended and suddenly I had that hook for the series I’ve been chasing for years. Suddenly the recent Oscar winner The Green Book was exactly what I needed to crack the case even if I hadn’t actually watched the film and it has no obvious bearing on my new idea.
So although a week behind, I would have been a fool not to get my ideas out, and I took full advantage of my sudden inspiration. I like to treat those moments of inspiration like an investment, a deposit made in a bank that’s allowed to gain interest while I’m off working on my other writing. So now that I have a nice little mental nest egg set aside in this new idea, I’m back to grinding away on these short stories.
Because, again, as great as inspiration is, it’s not writing. So while you can always benefit from those rare moments of inspiration, and should certainly take advantage of them, you should also never be beholden to them.