Guest post graciously written for us by Chrishaun Keller
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Pacasso
We recently interviewed Mina Carter on the SPRT podcast (click here if you haven’t heard it – she is wonderful!) and I asked her about about mindset and amongst the great answers, she said she writes even when she doesn’t want to, when she thinks she is out of ideas. She ended her sentence saying that she just shook her head whenever she heard people say that they could only write when they are “inspired” (she used the verbal version of the quotes I just used there).
I shuddered and may or may not have gone on a mini diatribe (ok, I totally did). I hear this very specific type of fallacy often from writers that are better than me but are not doing the work. It usually sounds like this:
I really do want to write, but I sit down and I can’t get inspired to write . I can even write a few things, but then I can’t get into it or I read what I have written and start over.
I need to wait until I have time / the energy / the mood is right and then I’ll write.
My mind has to be in the right place to write.
Now don’t hear what I am not saying- inspiration is a very important part of the writing process. What I am saying is that inspiration is not a prerequisite to write and write well.
I get that not everyone can sit and put in 3000, 2000, or even 500 words of pristine prose that uplifts the spirits and float readers away to their land of lore — very few of us can. But inspiration is not a word fairy that bonks you on the head while you’re washing dishes gives you the second act of your story… wait. Inspiration can be that, but 95% of the time it is the word fairy that bonks you on the head with the second act when you are actually writing the second act of your novel.
Chuck Close puts it this way:
Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work. The belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will – through work – bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art [idea].’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you [did] today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.
Namely a prolific career. Words on the page comes from four things:
- Personal Responsibility- your belief that writing is not “something that you will do someday when you have time” but as your duty and responsibility to yourself, your career and your audience.
- Planning- have a plan of attack (this is for you too, pantsers). Knowing the beginning, the high points, and the ending of your novel at the very least will allow you to spend less time staring at a blank page and more time writing. Knowing how many words you want to write a day or how many pages you want to revise
- Consistency- have your behind in the chair at the same time everyday. Start with 30 minute or smaller chunks (10 minutes on the bus or 15 minutes on your break). Being at the computer or journal at the same time everyday conditions your brain to get into the mode that it associates with writing
- Mental Prep- take a small portion of your writing that warms up your brain. If you’re writing for 10 minutes, take 60 seconds to write long hand the part of the story that you’re working on today. The physical practice of thinking about your words and then transforming that to action will prime the pump of your brain
Seeing writing as a vocation, a responsibility, something that you do everyday, at the same time everyday (even if you don’t feel like it), prewriting to warm up your brain then actually writing will give you something waiting will never do.
A finished draft, then a revised finished work, then a career.