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.”



Can Pokemon Make You a Better Writer?

Growing a routine like daily writing combines two factors: things we say yes to and things we say no to. Because habit creation is complex, each of us must assess how factors will impact our routine. Some factors that strengthen my writing habit could weaken yours, and vice versa.

My Little Experiment with Monsters

Case in point: I jumped onto the Pokemon Go bandwagon last week, along with a gazillion other people who repeatedly crashed the servers. I'll admit that I let it go a little too far, taking more than one unnecessarily long walk before heading home for the night.  

The game was fun, but after rebooting the app unsuccessfully for the fifth time one night, I stopped and asked myself, "How is this impacting other areas in my life, like my writing?" 

The Importance of Selectivity for Writers

Let me be clear--I'm not bashing Pokemon or its players. We need rest. We need to unwind. Recouping our energy and creativity is integral to our ability to complete any task, especially generative ones like writing. So if Pokemon Go or Netflix or some other mainstream diversion restores you, do those things! 

Still, activities can cut both ways. The Netflix binge that gives one person the rest they need to get back to work can have the opposite effect on someone else, pushing them even further from productivity. Some of us have trouble shutting Netflix off.  

In my case, Pokemon Go was a little too distracting. Several of my friends are playing, and they have the discipline to set aside a reasonable slot of time each day. They play for that amount of time and then stop. I'm not that kind of person, at least not with Pokemon. I found myself walking to the store, sitting at dinner—or worst of all—driving sown the road, and thinking, "Wonder if there are any Pokemon around here?" 

When something occupies our mind outside of the time and space we've granted it, we're losing control of that thing. Committed writers must control their mind space. Our brains are like fertile ground for the ideas that fill our writing. The preoccupations are like weeds; they choke out the creative ideas until it’s extremely difficult to write at all. 

Be Mindful about What You Choose

Writers, let’s honestly assess what’s building our writing routine and what’s limiting it. Each of us will come to a unique set of conclusions. I had to delete Pokemon Go—that was best for my routine. For you, it could be the opposite. Maybe catching them all will restore you and fuel your creativity. The crucial thing is to make these choices deliberately. Be aware of influence: say yes to what brings out the best in you.


Progress Update 6/25/16

Yesterday, I failed to write. Consequently, I broke a nice little 10 day streak that I had going. The picture shows my progress on the Commit app. (The white lines are days I wrote. As you can see, my consistency has been spotty.)

I’m happy that I’ve been writing most days, but I want to get my consistency back up. I’m reading an excellent book right now, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It’s about the struggle of creatives to stay consistent in their work.  

I’m not finished with the book, but my chief take-away at this point is that we can very easily sabotage creative efforts like writing. Pressfield illustrates a range of excuses that we use to avoid the actual work. I’m changing my perspective on a couple of issues as a result of this book. More on that in a future post. 

On a different note, I’m taking a break from my college teaching for the summer. This will give me more time to work on my book project and some other content for Beyond the Blinking Cursor. Stay tuned!