“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.”
When I was just getting started, a friend and I used to go to Perkins every night after work to drink coffee and write. More often than not, he wound up reading a book instead while I sat across the booth scribbling in a notebook on this story or that. Sometimes I read, too, but most nights I was writing or editing something.
I mentioned to him once about coming out there to write and how he always read a book instead.
“Gotta wait for inspiration,” he said.
I wouldn’t swear to it because we don’t talk much these days, but I’m almost positive he hasn’t written a thing in maybe a decade.
I’ll allow that ideas require inspiration. But if you’re a writer and your brain isn’t constantly on the lookout for story ideas even when you’re not trying, then you’re doing it wrong.
We don’t sit around and wait for inspiration. Not if you want to make a living at this, anyway. The grocery store isn’t going to hold off payment on a cart full of food for the week until you’re inspired to pay them. The mortgage company isn’t going to care that you weren’t inspired last month to create something new. They want their money.
Art is a business. Unless of course you have a cushy day job that you absolutely love and never want to quit. And if that’s the case, good on you. Most of us, though, want to quit the day job and get paid to make our art.
But in order to get to that point, you have to throw out that notion that you need to be inspired in order to create. And if the idea of living on the street doesn’t inspire you, nothing will.
The first step is to train your brain to ALWAYS be working on something, even if you’re not at your desk. Listen for song lyrics that could spark a story, or bits of conversation that might develop into a novel. I bet you could stop what you’re doing right now–reading this–and look around wherever you are and find one object that could be a full story.
Let’s see …
On a bookshelf to my left is a candle shaped like 5 skulls side by side. The middle three skulls have wicks sticking out of their domes. What if every time I lit one of those, one of my five closest friends died? Or better yet, every time I lit one, I got to choose who died. Not ME, of course, but the main character in a short story or novella. If handled correctly, I could see that being a very wicked and brutal story, and five minutes ago it didn’t exist.
But over 27 years of writing, I’ve trained myself to constantly be on the lookout for story ideas, so even when I’m not looking for them, I’m still looking for them.
So that’s the first step, train your brain to find the stories in everyday life.
Second step? Sit down and write them. No, you’re not going to wait for “inspiration” or “the right words”. You’re going to sit down every day and work. You don’t know how the story starts? It starts at the beginning.
I’m certainly not sitting here waiting for inspiration. I’m MAKING inspiration. I’m forming the story, sorting out the logistics and crafting the plot in my head, but I’m doing it at the keyboard, and within two minutes, tops, I would have a first sentence. And once I’ve settled on the first sentence, the next sentence would come a lot easier.
Because I’m suddenly inspired? No, because I write every day and have worked that creative muscle. I practice. I do the work.
Once you do anything enough times, it stops being an effort and just becomes second nature. Write enough stories and sooner rather than later you’re not even considering the idea of waiting for inspiration. Write enough days in a row and the idea of waiting for inspiration just sounds … silly.
Silly amateurs. They’ll never learn.
Well, they could. But it takes work.
Stop going about your day to day telling yourself “As soon as I’m inspired, I’m gonna run to my desk and start working.” If you’re telling yourself that lie, you might as well sell your laptop and your desk because you won’t be needing them. Inspiration like that doesn’t come at convenient times, it comes when it damn well wants to, more often than not when you’re at work or somewhere else that’s nowhere near your desk or your laptop or anything else you could possibly use to get started. Inspiration doesn’t care what you had planned today.
That’s why we say fuck inspiration. Inspiration doesn’t care about me, I don’t care about inspiration. I care about getting these words down and making this art. Every day.
It really is as simple as those two steps: 1) find the story. 2) write the story.
Anything more complicated than that, and you’re just stalling, wasting time you’d be better served using to get that promotion to shift manager at your fast food job, because that’s where you’re gonna be for a while.