The Myth of Inspiration

Most of the writers I’ve worked with share a common misconception about inspiration. Before we work together, they believed that they couldn’t just sit down and begin writing. They thought they needed to feel “inspired.” When I ask these clients what inspiration means to them, they have different answers, but most involve feeling heightened or energized or particularly sparked by an idea or an image or a topic.
I tell these clients that they are mistaken. Inspiration, at least the kind these clients wait for, is a myth. Not that inspiration doesn’t happen. It does, and it is indeed quite pleasurable. You might be sitting in front of your computer, or with pen in hand, writing, when suddenly you catch an updraft. The words, or ideas or images suddenly begin landing on the page more quickly than you can even think them. Writing is effortless, merely a question of running your hands over the keys or allowing your pen to glide across the page and back. You feel weightless, buoyant. Gravity has ceased to apply to you.
Such moments, however, don’t usually visit you in a vacuum. And they are unpredictable. More important, you have to be present to receive and appreciate them. Sure, every once in a while, you might be strolling along minding your own business, when suddenly an idea for a story you want to write pops into your head. Thinking about the idea and about writing the story makes you happy enough to start skipping. But if you wait for the sensation to revisit you, you will likely have to wait for quite some time. And it is quite likely that the story will never get written.
However, if you arrange your life so that you have a regular writing time each day—or at least several days a week—you are much more likely to receive the inspiration and capitalize on it, translating it into very real words on the page. Subsequent days, as you continue writing, you most likely will not re-experience that same uplifting surge. But you may remember it. And it may well sustain you, breathing your writing along as you continue capturing the words of your story on the page.
Since inspiration is neither predictable nor assured, waiting for it to strike as a signal to write makes your writing world subject to a major force beyond your control. But sitting down to write on a regular basis creates a foundation for your writing that is within your control. This will contribute to making your writing world safe. And it will also assure that when inspiration does strike, you will be there to receive it.



4 thoughts on “The Myth of Inspiration”

  • Thanks so much for this. I do think that both writers–and students–seem to believe there will be some magic moment(s) that will just land on them and it will all be easy. And yes, we do have these flashes. For me they tend to happen after I walk away from the screen and am doing something entirely different and my mind keeps working on the project on its own. But it is so true about setting up and protecting writing time. When you read the biographies of so many amazing writers through the ages, they have all stressed that they had a schedule, or devoted several uninterrupted hours a day to writing, We may all struggle to find this time (ironically when we have the technology that should make writing and publishing easier than ever) due to more distractions than ever before. So thanks for this reminder and myth-buster!

    • Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Kala. Yes, inspiration just after we’ve finished writing, while it seems ironic, makes a great deal of sense to me. Whatever stress or tension we might have been feeling as we sat at our computer, we leave behind when we finish writing and stand up to move on to our next activity. Yet we’re still thinking about what we’ve just been writing, even unconsciously. Set free from any worries about performance, our mind has the opportunity to gift us these moments of inspiration.

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