Inspiration is Bullshit

I’ve been thinking about someone I knew years ago, who – like me – was a writer. And I’ve been thinking about how she quit her job one day, and packed up her car and drove halfway to a new place, a place she thought she could really put her all into writing and perhaps make something of herself. And I’ve been thinking about how, halfway there, she turned around and asked for her whole job back.

I’ve been thinking about the smug look on our boss’s face as he told that story to the entire company, and the fact that she’s still there. I remember talking to her once about her writing, and her telling me that she wasn’t exactly where she wanted to be because she only writes while inspired.

And I remember thinking…that’s why you’re not writing.

Inspiration is bullshit.

I mean…maybe that’s harsh. I know what it feels like to have your fingers fly across the keyboard, you pen to fill up pages of notebooks so fast that you feel like a thing possessed. I know what it feels like to have characters appear out of nowhere, to have plots just unfold before you like a flower in the sun and suddenly you have this thing that’s blooming at you.

But most of writing is not that. Writing is a lot of staring – at screens, into space, at the world around you – because you’re thinking and formulating and maybe passive observation helps you do that. It’s a lot of pacing. It’s laying awake and night working out your plot or talking with your characters. It’s stopping to Google things constantly. It’s having to walk away from your story entirely, because no writer can sustainable maintain a high productivity level.

Creativity isn’t just about being touched by the muses. It’s work. It’s obsession. It’s commitment.

And the people who just write when they’re “inspired” usually don’t get very far. For them, it’s a hobby.

For the rest of us, it’s something we *have* to do. Even if we never get published, we have to do it. Even if we spend years writing the same story, we have to do it.

For me, writing is also a major catharsis – I’m calmer. I’m steadier. Because I’m excellent at the art of sublimation, because I’ve mastered the art of transferring energy from one place to another, writing has actually benefitted my mental health.

Even if I never get published – I’m doing it. I’m writing. I’m creating rich and complex worlds. I’m exploring things that pull me out of my comfort zone in a safe way. Publishing is a goal, but it’s not my motivation. I don’t write to get published, I write because I have to, and because it helps me, and even when it’s hard, I enjoy it. I’m committed to it.

Commitment means I carve time out of busy-ness, I weave writing into my life. It’s a thing that I do, not a thing I wait to have happen to me. That’s why I think inspiration is bullshit – not that it’s bad, not that it doesn’t exist, but that it can’t be the thing you wait for. If you’re waiting for inspiration to chase you down, you’re doing it wrong.

Creativity requires a certain tenaciousness and perseverance. It’s beautiful and sublime and sometimes a goddess whispers in your ear, and suddenly everything you touch is magic. But mostly, the imps of imperfection and self-doubt try to derail you, and life throws bumps into your path, and you have to keep going and keep going. That’s how you create.

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