Viewing time: 3 minutes 14 seconds
The Write Question is a weekly video podcast about writing that I started in 2017 and that ran, more or less weekly, until April 2022. This is a republication of issue #15, addressing the thorny topic of inspiration. The post first ran on April 28/17.
Welcome to The Write Question, the video-podcast designed to answer your questions about writing. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant.
Today I have a question from Tongwei Wang, a student from Sichuan, China. [Recording]: “I’ve found two kinds of opinions about writing. One is to write when you feel like it and if you don’t feel like doing it then you don’t need to write. Another person told me that writers can’t write when they have inspiration because the most important thing is they just keep writing. What is your opinion on that?”
Thank-you Tongwei. I strongly believe that inspiration is almost irrelevant to writers. I think this is true even of fiction writers, but let me explain why.
There used to be a Hollywood image of writing as glamorous but, really, it’s quite technical. It’s heavily rules-based. You write with a mechanical instrument, a pencil and pen or more typically a computer. Every sentence has to follow certain rules — you need a subject and a predicate, for example. In other words, writing is work. It’s not as hard as moving bricks, but it’s still work. No one ever asks a doctor or an engineer if they feel inspired to work that day. They’re just expected to do it. And the same is true of professional writers.
But there’s a bigger reason why you shouldn’t wait for inspiration. And that’s because the act of writing is inspiring in itself.
Most of us writers don’t figure out what we want to say until we start saying it. I know that *I* write to figure things out. It’s almost as if my own brain can’t decide what it thinks until I start to get some words down on paper. So, if you start writing, however reluctantly, you may find yourself feeling inspired before you finish.
Here’s another point and I picked up this one from novelist Neil Gaiman. He says he’s frequently asked where he gets his ideas. He was once asked this by his young daughter’s grade school class: “You get ideas from daydreaming,” he said. “You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” I’ve included a link to his blog post in the details below.
Let me add one last point about why it doesn’t make sense to wait for inspiration: If you’re writing something long — like a book or a thesis — that task is going to take you many months. A typical book is 80,000 words — if you have to wait for inspiration every time you work on it, I guarantee it would take you many years, maybe even a lifetime to finish it.
Inspiration is nice when it occurs but it’s not something you should depend on. The world would have more writers if everyone understood this.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from American editor and novelist Peter de Vries: “I write when I’m inspired… and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”
Thanks for your question, Tongwei. Good luck with not needing inspiration.
Thanks so much for watching. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to the video.
“Where do you get your ideas” by Neil Gaiman