I had a professor in college who often said, “Inspiration will fail you.” She was very right about that.
Many authors wait around to be inspired. They wait for the muse to appear with an amazing idea, one that fills the page with vivid prose and vibrant action. And when inspiration fails to appear, those writers remind themselves that tomorrow is another day, and they don’t write anything.
That’s why inspiration will fail you. It’s lazy, it’s inconsiderate, and it doesn’t ever show up when you want it to.
Sure, sometimes we find it. Sometimes our brains spark and whisper, Let’s write this down. But this is certainly not the norm. Far more often, our work hinges on those days when we don’t feel inspired.
Think about it this way: if you only write when you’re inspired and you’re only inspired on good days, how will you ever practice your writing? Writing, like any skill, requires hard work in exchange for improvement. If we don’t put in the hard work until inspiration hands us an idea, then we’re probably not writing frequently enough to improve.
Furthermore, there’s a common assumption that every word one writes must be perfect, or that all writing should, at the very least, be interesting. This notion can preclude some writers from writing anything at all, regardless of how inspired or uninspired they might feel. But not all writing needs to be readable.
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Every, every professional writer will tell you that a written work doesn’t even come close to being readable until the second draft, at the earliest. Even then, there might be three, four, five drafts to go before it’s something worth sharing.
If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe some dude named Vladimir Nabokov: “I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.”
If inspiration hasn’t paid you a visit in a while, try writing anything—literally anything—and see what happens. Try a simple sentence of a character doing something: “Lilly looked out the window at the tree in the yard, and she thought to herself, That tree wasn’t there yesterday.”
From here, we can go in all sorts of different directions. Where did the tree come from? How did the tree get there? And who is Lilly? What does she have to do with this tree? What does this tree mean to her? Sometimes, one sentence is all it takes to get things moving.
Of course, you might decide later that that sentence and all your writing thereafter was lame, anyway. Even so, at least you’ve written something down and you’ve gotten your practice for the day. Anything’s better than nothing, even if your anything isn’t particularly good.
Truth is, successful writers are those who write with consistency. That might mean something different for everyone, but what it certainly doesn’t mean is waiting for inspiration.
Trust me. You’re going to be waiting a long, long time.
This guest post was contributed by Kyle Massa. Kyle writes speculative fiction, blogs, some non-fiction, and the occasional tribute to coffee.