Sometimes Inspiration Makes Writing Harder

So you sit down to your work in progress.  In your brain, scenes are flashing that you are about to write.  You are inspired!  You know deep down that what you are about to write is the turning point of your novel.  It is this one spot where everyone hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the mythic words “The End.”  Only, the words don’t come.  Despite your giddy high of inspiration, the scene is difficult.  It stutters and shuffles along at a lumbering pace.  You start to doubt yourself.  You start thinking ‘This is the wrong thing for me to be writing.’  Perhaps you scrap the story all-together.  Welcome to Chapter Two.

The above scene played itself out over my last several writing sessions.  I knew what I wanted, knew where I had to be.  Despite that, I couldn’t get the words out.  Looking at what I’ve written, I’m not satisfied.  Where did it all go wrong?  Was my idea too weak?  Am I just not up to the task of writing my own story?

Being an author is a solitary exercise.  Yes, we can have critique groups, we can tweet until our fingers bleed, but when it comes time to write the tale burning in our minds, we are alone.  Which I have discovered, quite painfully, compels me to play mind games.  I go from one moment loving my characters and believing fiercely in their tale to the extreme opposite.

My current work in progress stands at just over 10,000 words.  Guess what, it’s the third project to hit that landmark.  Funny enough, it has not even surpassed my other two projects that have found themselves shelved.  When I wrote the others, I was inspired, yet they’ve not been completed.  What’s the problem?

I think, and maybe this is just me, it is a fear of failure.  When I have only the vaguest of ideas where my stories are going, I write easily.  When inspiration truly takes hold, I stall.  See, I play the worst of head games.  Because of inspiration, because of ideas and direction, I impose an expectation that I will write something profound and wonderful.  As the words dribble out, I start to doubt myself.  In the back of my head, a nagging voice starts whispering “This isn’t how it’s supposed to sound.  This isn’t half as cool as it was when you were thinking it.  You’re lost, let it go.”  All too often, I have listened to the voice.

This time, I will not be denied.  This time, unlike so many of the others, I know my work is what I have to be writing.  I know that if I fail, my dreams of writing will perish.  I must finish this, regardless.  Besides, through my Twitter friends, I have learned that virtually no one delivers a grand novel the first time around.  The books we hold in our hands have been written, re-written, edited, and polished several times over.  What matters now is getting the thoughts on paper.  What matters is crafting the story.  Once the story exists, the rest is just choosing better words to express it.

So inspiration is both vital life and poison at the same time.  The antidote is a healthy dose of realism.  I need to talk to myself as much as my characters and story do.

To combat this, I suggest the following; when the greatest of inspiration hits, write down the ideas.  Sketch out what you have.  Then let it sit and percolate a few days.  Once it’s boiled and cooled, sit and write.  That was how I got through chapter two.  I let it digest longer.  The more time I gave it, the easier my stomach accepted it.  Once I sat down to pen the final thousand or so words, I had better ideas, a stronger sense of what I needed to do.  I wasn’t running on pure giddy inspiration, I was running on cooler-headed thinking and, most importantly, planning.

So what’s our single word that all the blah-blah takes us to today?  Planning.

Inspiration makes things hard.  It fills us with expectations, pumps us up to an almost drug-like high, and then kicks us when we realise that it’s just not enough to get the job done.  Inspiration is one part of the equation.  Working that inspiration into something more manageable, taking time to shape and mold it, yields results.  At least, that’s my experience.

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2 Comments

  1. This has been exactly my experience in the last year and a half of working on my book. You say it well. I’ve found that there is a peace that comes with realizing that I don’t have to either wait on inspiration or cling desperately to it – I can let it percolate, like you say, and sometimes what comes from that is much the better.

    You’ve also reminded me about how Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird talks about writing “shitty first drafts.” Just getting them out, done, on paper. Then the revising work begins.

    • Thanks so much! I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling this way. It has been really tough accepting I’m going to suck the first time around. However, that realisation has, in many ways, set me free. Maybe that’ll be my next blog post!

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