There was a time when I didn’t need to look for inspiration. In those days I thought it came out of the sky. I just churned out my writing. Back then my poems and stories brought me heaps of praise. I won competitions. I was regularly published in the Sunday papers. At one stage I had to decide between becoming an author or a tightrope walker. I even wrote my poems as I practised my circus routines. I didn’t actually have access to a tightrope so I had to make do with a rickety fence. Inevitably a nasty fall ended my circus career before it even started. That was when I was eight.
As I grew up, the praise eventually stopped, and with it the ‘inspiration’. I found another career. I married, had children. Boxes full of scribblings attest to my persistence, but inevitably the flow slowed to a trickle. Then in my early fifties I swallowed my pride and went looking for stimulus in a creative writing course. The most important thing I discovered was I was not on my own. Virtually everyone in my class had suffered a similar experience. The second and most important lesson was I must never sit around waiting for inspiration to arrive like a bolt out of the blue. My gut feeling should have already warned me lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
What I did discover was I had to do the hard yards first. I had to keep putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard no matter what. I had to accept that much of what I would write would be rubbish, but never to allow my humiliation to force me away from my desk. Eventually I found if I worked hard enough, in the end, inspiration did inevitably arrive. To my old self this would have seemed like a lightning bolt, but now I know better than that.
Maria Popova has just published a Daily Ritual: A Guided Tour of Writers’ and Artists’ Creative Habits on her Brainpickings website. Apparently Mark Twain would ‘go to the study in the morning after a hearty breakfast and stay there until dinner at about 5.00.’ He is said to have always skipped lunch. Now I find the thought of that quite scary.
However if you’re interested in productivity, and really want to scare yourself, then you should read Guardian writer, Oliver Burkman’s, article on How To Be Productive and Creative, The Karl Marx Way.
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. - Jack London