Today I want to talk about inspiration. The kind that the real professional writers are often dismissive of. ‘Inspiration’s for amateurs,’ they say. Well, they’re probably right. Except that nothing beats the feeling of inspiration. You see something or hear something and in a blinding flash a beautiful plot unfurls before you and you already know exactly how each scene is going to go. Then, one of two things will happen.
The first thing is that you sit down and write the story then and there. (I am talking about short stories here!) This is the ideal solution. You’re inspired. The whole thing is fresh, shining and clear. It’s one of those ‘I’m a literary genius’ moments where there’s no room for doubt. You write without looking back. It’s going to be amazing. You won’t even need to edit. Of course, this is always wrong. When you reread the next day you will totally need to edit. But, because in the throws of inspiration you didn’t second guess yourself, you will probably need to edit less. (Editing is never done with inspiration) And, you wrote a whole story in one go. Go you! Writing under you inspiration sure beats the second option.
The second thing is what happens when, after the initial flash, you don’t have the time or the circumstances to write it down. This happened to me the other day. While on a journey we stopped at a fuel station and I saw a newspaper headline which gave me a brilliant idea. It was amazing. I saw the whole thing. But I was in a car and I get very travel sick. So I thought I’d just write the story when I got home.
Well, I did. Some of it. But the freshness has gone. I’m wondering if it is even a good idea after all. I’m stuck in the middle, unsure how to get to the ending I planned. I know that when the idea came to me I knew exactly how to get to the end. But I can’t think how. So I’m putting off finishing it. My notebook’s been sat beside my bed for days.
This is where the perseverance comes in. I am going to finish it. It will be a bit more work. A bit harder. But once it’s edited there won’t be much difference between the scenes written under inspiration and the scenes dragged out of me by sheer willpower. So I think that’s why the professionals disdain inspiration. It’s very nice when it comes, but it doesn’t last and you can’t count on it. When it’s gone and the doubt leaks in you can’t just stop. If you do you’ll never finish a single thing. Inspiration is not the thing you need to be a writer. What you need is just sheer stubbornness.