The Myth of Inspiration

A Change of Pace

A local radio station announced an intriguing contest this week: they invited writers who had written or wanted to write a 60-second story to call the station’s number and read the story into the phone.  The station would then choose a collection of these stories to be read on air, for a half hour every night for a week.

I decided to ask the writers in my workshop to enter the contest, and we spent the last half-hour of class writing a draft of our stories.  The results were fantastic!

Why, you might ask?  How could everybody think of a story to write in the first place?  And how could they write well when you were forcing them to write?  People can’t write on demand!  They need time and space.  And inspiration.

Not true.  The myth of inspiration is over rated.  What helps writers write is setting aside a time each day, or at least several times a week, to write.  And then honoring the commitment they have made to themselves.  If you wait for inspiration, you will write so sporadically that you’ll never gain the momentum necessary to complete a piece.  But if you show up for the page regularly, you’ll be there when inspiration just happens to visit you.printer

Contrary to popular opinion, writing is not fueled by inspiration.  It’s nourished by the relationship between a writer and her writing, and this relationship—like all relationships—requires consistency and kindness.  What is more, inspiration is more likely to visit you when it has nothing to fear, nothing to drive it away.

There’s another reason as well, that the 60-second stories my workshop wrote were fantastic: the stakes were low.  We had only 15 minutes to create a draft, and the resulting piece, after all, needed to be only one page long.  Too often writers expect themselves to spend too much time on their writing, setting aside a full Saturday, for instance, to write.  And much too frequently, they set their sights too high, thinking about the entire novel, collection of stories or essays, the whole memoir they plan to write, instead of paying attention to the page they are working on at the moment.  Not only do they think too large in terms of output, but in terms of results as well; they want to win prizes, accumulate rave reviews, acquire multi-book deals. By thinking too large, they feel overwhelmed and defeated.  Of course, they have trouble sitting down to write.  What’s the point?

One of the writers in my workshop struggles with writing to deadline, beginning to write only when she has a piece to submit the very next day.  Yet she whipped off a jewel of a 60-second story, one that is full of intrigue and tension.  I bet she’ll be one of the writers selected to read her story on the air.  More important, however, I hope she understands now that lowering the stakes might be her best avenue of inspiration.

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