Is Inspiration a Trap for Writers?

Stephen Pressfield said that the Muse wanders the earth looking for someone to inspire, but she only pays attention to the person who is already at work. W. Somerset Maugham said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” 

Both of these authors understand that writers can’t wait for inspiration. If we’re serious about writing, we must write whether we feel like it or not. The feelings associated with the creative process should follow the discipline of writing, not the other way around. 

Writers offer a range of excuses for not doing their work. The excuse of not feeling inspired deceives more than any other. Anyone who has engaged in a creative endeavor knows the power of inspiration. It's a thrilling experience. And once a writer has written with inspiration at their back, that writer will always desire a repetition of the experience. It’s like getting hooked on a drug. The fact remains, however, we can't count on inspiration striking. 

Now, I have met a handful of people who appear to be in a state of continual inspiration. From what I can tell, these folks wake up every day fully conscious. They throw themselves out of bed, hit the floor running, and accomplish their goals with extraordinary focus and energy, day after day. These folks are like an eternal fountain of cheerfulness, energy, and optimism. I hate them. 

The rest of us begin from a less advantageous position. For the typical writer, rallying the energy and focus to start the creative process will be a lifelong struggle. It’s not that we don’t enjoy the process; we just have problems with the inertia at the beginning. 

Tradition compels us to believe that the people blessed unlimited energy and inspiration are the true creatives. Similarly, tradition suggests that those of us who must exert great determination in creative endeavors are posers or fakers. Neither of these is true. Smart authors of the past frequently described their process as a mystical experience they had no control over, but in reality, they toiled over every sentence in private, usually on a daily basis.

Inspiration can take our writing to a higher level, but only if we consistently write in the first place. Take care not to use the absence of creative spark as an excuse to avoid writing. If we do the work, we are giving inspiration a chance to show up. And the more consistently we do it, the better the chances.

As Louis L’Amour said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water doesn't flow until the faucet is turned on.”