Friday, March 4, 2016

Why You Shouldn’t Wait for Inspiration


It’s one of those words that you hear a lot, in the world of creative people. If there was a world populated only by analytical people (to those of you who are both, like myself, I appreciate you on a spiritual level or something), this word wouldn’t show up nearly as much.

What is inspiration?
I mean, it’s got a definition and everything, but what is it really?

In the world of creativity, inspiration is knowing how, what, and why. It’s when all the pieces fall into place. For a writer, it’s when you know exactly what to write for any given part of your story. It’s when your characters come alive and dance across the page as you frantically type/scribble the words before they fade away.

In short, it’s exhilarating.
Inspiration is awesome. It’s a moment of jaw-dropping insight where your brain and your story click.
Everything makes sense.

Yet, at the same time, inspiration is rare. It comes so rarely that lack of inspiration may be the single most deadly disease creativity combats. We love inspiration so much that sometimes we sit around and wait for it. It’s when we create the most, because sometimes it’s the only time we create.

Thing is, writers can’t wait.
If you want to be a writer, you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, for the lightning to fall from the heavens and turn your brain into a creativity machine.
Because, chances are, that won’t happen.

The Rarity of Inspiration

Do you have that one story that you just love? An idea that floats around your brain that you think about all the time and just want to write?
Most writers have that story sitting somewhere. It’s the one story you want to be known for, to be known for telling it. Some people call it their brainchild. I’ve got a few of those, but I’ve got my brainchild of brainchilds. It’s the one story – even if I never publish any others – that I want to be known for.
Its themes are precious, its characters so personal. Even just thinking about what I want to do with it makes me excited, makes me want to smile.
That is a brainchild.
The thing about brainchilds is this: sometimes we’re scared to write them. What if we mess them up? What if our written story can’t do the tale in our head justice?

Well, there’s a solution to that: inspiration.
When we’re inspired, everything is perfect. Every moment of inspiration is a moment of perfect creativity. Even typos are non-existent. Early-draft readers sob into their pillows as they read, because it’s so beautiful.

So what do we do?
Isn’t it obvious? We wait. We sit around and wait for inspiration to strike.
And, sadly, it might never happen.

Why is Inspiration Impossible to Find?

Our brains, in their natural state, are lazy. We’d rather… not. It takes a lot of work to create anything, so we put it off as long as possible.
Instead of writing, we procrastinate. We stick our characters into “character lounges” with the characters of other writer friends and we keep ourselves distracted.
We plot or develop or worldbuild or create a dozen Pinterest boards of character and setting pictures and fun little quotes.

Sometimes those things are good things. If it helps you write it’s a good thing. But there comes a point where these things stop helping and start hindering. When we choose to do those other things rather than write, they become hindrances.
Your worldbuilding is not the point.
Your character lounges are not the point.
Your Pinterest boards are not the point.

The story is the point.
And if you wait for that moment of “I KNOW EVERYTHING”, you’ll be waiting for a long time.
Maybe even forever.

Rather than Wait

If it’s no good to wait, how do we chase inspiration down and force it to help us?
Short answer: we don’t.
Inspiration is an abstract concept that flits around its ethereal realm and occasionally chooses to stop by our brains for a short cup of tea and a pleasant chat.

Instead of waiting for those three or four times when inspiration will visit you over the course of the next two decades, just start.
Waiting doesn’t do you any good. Procrastinating does you even less good. Your stories aren’t going to write themselves. Inspiration isn’t going to help you out until you invite it in.
So don’t wait.

Even if the story is your brainchild, don’t wait. Don’t wait for that perfect moment of wonder.
Just write.

Accepting Imperfection

But this is my brainchild!
It has to be perfect. Not some silly rough draft with all sorts of typos and plot holes and moments of flat dialogue.

A moment of truth: your story will never be perfect.
There is no such thing as a perfect story. Every story will have rough spots. A typo here, a snippet of less-than-smooth dialogue. Tiny plot holes no one can ever fix and few people will notice.
Pick out any book or movie or television show.
Any of them.
It has a flaw or two or twenty or two hundred.
Even if it’s a brainchild of its creator, it isn’t perfect. Even if it was created in a moment of “perfect” inspiration, it isn’t perfect. That not how the world works.

I want you to do one thing for me. I want you to repeat after me (say it aloud, if you want; it will help):
“My story will never be perfect.”
Shall we say it again?
My story will never be perfect.”

We’re so good at that, I think we should do another one:
“It’s useless to wait for inspiration.”
Got it?
“It’s useless to wait for inspiration.”

If it’s useless to wait, don’t.
If your story will never be perfect, let it be imperfect.

Give yourself – and your story – permission to fail. Many, many times.

Earth-shattering Failure

We all mess up.
It’s a simple fact of life, one I hope you already knew. I’d hate to be the one to break it to you. Oh well.

If your story is messed up, that’s okay. It happens to the best of us. Hear that? If you messed up your story, you’re among the best of us. Those people with perfect stories? They don’t exist.
But what about the big mess ups? What happens when we screw up our story so much that it just… doesn’t work anymore?

I recently had this problem. I was starting to write a Utopian story and everything was going well. Characters and plot had fallen into place, my outline hanging on my wall looked fantastic, the documents were all in place, and I was ready to write.
But there was no inspiration.
Oh well, who needs that stuff, right?
I pushed through a rather rough start and kept going. Got all the way to 10,000 words. Everything seemed to be falling into place again, when suddenly it wasn’t.
The story fell apart.
Characters no longer clicked.
Bits of the plot dragged on, others fell off the map.
The prose felt like my prose from ten years ago, when I first started to write.

And there it went. Not only was I fresh out of inspiration, but I no longer had the will to push through to the end. This was the second writing project ever that I chose to set aside.
For a few days, I didn’t write anything at all. Well, one blog post (you’re welcome). That’s it. I sat around wondering what had just happened.

The answer was simple: I messed up.
But that’s okay. I moved on, set the story aside, and went on writing. I went back to a story that I love and just started to write.
I didn’t have inspiration for this other story, in the sense that everything felt perfect, but I did have it in the best way:
I love that story.

When you love a story, it doesn’t matter that you feel uninspired. Even when you have to force your fingers to clack the keys and most of what you write sounds like a mammoth giving birth to a kitten, you don’t care.
Because the story itself is worth it.

So. Write what you love. When you don’t have inspiration, write something that doesn’t rely on inspiration. Write something fueled purely by your love for it.

Then when inspiration comes, keep writing.
And if inspiration doesn’t come?
Keep writing.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Whoa. *feels ironically inspired*
    That was really good! The part about letting yourself fail really hit home with me, because I can tend to be a perfectionist.
    And I'm also one of those people who's both analytical and creative! *high five*

    Oh, and btw I tagged you for a book tag! It's basically just answering a list of questions about books. If you're interested, here's the link:

    If you're not interested, just ignore it. :):)

    1. Haha, thanks Jonathan!
      I'm a perfectionist, as well. At least in some ways. In others I've learned to just ignore that side of me when I need to. So, in some ways, this post is as much a reminder for me as it is for others!

      Oh, interesting. I'll have to check it out! (Not sure if I'll have time for it, but we'll see.)

  3. This reminds me of a Neil Gaiman quote: "A novel is best described as a long piece of prose with something wrong with it."

    1. Oh I /like/ this quote. XD
      I'll store it somewhere and come back every once in a while and read it.

  4. "I just give myself permission to be awful, and I find that extremely liberating."

    I used to wait for inspiration (which wasted so much of my time), and I would get frustrated because I wasn't moving forward with my novel, then I realized that either way I'm going to have to rewrite basically everything, so why not just get it done faster? Hence, no longer waiting for inspiration to catch up and do it's job.

    Great post!

    1. Exactly Laura! Even when we have inspiration, what we write will need to be re-written, so why wait?

      My pleasure. ^_^