I’ve been invited to speak about writing to a group of high school students next fall, and this morning in the shower (where I do all of my best thinking), I was pondering what I might say to them. I thought it might be fun to talk to them about inspiration – what it is, where it comes from – and, most importantly, what it’s not.
I think a lot of people imagine that writers spend much of their time feeling inspired, that they sit at their desks with fairylike muses perched on their shoulders. Whenever inspiration flags, these benevolent creatures wave their magic wands and shower the writers with sparkly creativity-dust.
If you’re a writer, you know it’s not like that. Certainly, we all have our moments of white hot inspiration, those times when the words flow out of us in a flaming gush. But most of the time, writing is a job. We sit at our computers every day and do our work, whether we feel like it or not. Over time, we’ve learned that it matters less whether we’re inspired than if we show up and meet our word-quota for the day. Because putting one word in front of the other is how our stories get told. And amazingly, though it often seems like we’re simply plodding along, when we go back and read what we’ve written, we realize that, somehow, inspiration has managed to creep in.
Because I consider myself a real writer, in it for the long haul, I’ve decided to trade in my sparkly-fairy-dust muse for the slavedriver model. I need a muse who rousts me out of bed when I’d rather sleep in, who sits me at the computer when I’d rather go out and play, and who, when I’m ready to quit for the day, tells me I need to accomplish a little more. Because that’s how my books will get written.
I need a muse with a whip. It’s up to me to create the sparkles.