Writing begins long before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. It begins with a thought, an idea, a chance encounter, an over-heard fragment of conversation. Writing begins with inspiration.
But what is inspiration? Where does it come from? Is it definable, quantifiable? Can we make a graph with inspiration as a dependent variable that changes over time or speed or distance? And if we could, would it do us any good?
Inspiration is the idea, the spark that sets a writer on fire. It comes from everywhere and anywhere and in my experience, it is usually an accident. You see or hear or read something and think, why? or what if? or then what? That is inspiration.
Inspiration is vital to the writing process. It gives us our ideas and moves us to sit down, shut up and write. Creative people need inspiration, but we do not need it as much or as often as we think we do.
I have known writers who worship inspiration as a god. They write only when they feel inspired. The result is generally six or eight frenetic pages to a story they will never finish.
When inspiration leaves them they call it writer’s block. Yesterday, I attended a sold out talk and interview with writer and creative master Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods, The Sandman graphic novels, and a multitude of other works.
When asked about writer’s block, Mr. Gaiman said he didn’t believe in it. The audience laughed, but he was serious.
He went on to explain that no other profession in the world has an equivalent term. Only writers felt the need to take being stuck, which happens to everyone, and give it a fancy name. Mr. Gaiman said we do this because writers are clever, so clever that we make up our own terms for being stuck.
And he’s right. Writers are amazingly clever at making up excuses for being stuck. The muse has left me. I have writer’s block. I just don’t feel inspired.
Well the secret, the solution, that every aspiring author needs to learn is this: After that initial flash of insight you don’t need inspiration. She doesn’t write, she doesn’t call. Forget about her. Once you have the idea, the rest is up to you.
Inspiration only gives you the idea. Hard work is what makes it into a book. It won’t always be fun. It won’t always be easy. But it is worth it.
So sit down, shut up, and write something.