Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Should Writers Wait for Inspiration?

The  topic for this post is inspired by a comment  by  a writer friend and blog buddy Jim Murdoch, on  a previous post of mine titled ‘Where Does Inspiration Strike You’.

Here is Jim’s comment:

“I don’t believe in inspiration, not in any Romantic sense. Inspiration is a  good idea – literally – and I don’t like to mystify the process. If I have a good idea, great, if not then any old idea will do. I used to wait around for inspiration to strike as if it was out of my control and that’s such a waste of resources. This doesn’t mean I’m not affected by my moods and there are times I’m less responsive than others – there’s nothing like having a clear head when you’re trying to write – but there’s often much we can do to improve our chances of a successful writing session, if we know ourselves. This is why some writers rise at the crack of dawn because they recognise that is the optimum time for them to work. I used to find working in the middle of the night was a very productive time but these days I’m at my clearest in the afternoons.

That said you can be struck by a good idea any time. The key is to be on the lookout. And have paper handy. It’s no different to a photographer wandering around with his camera on the lookout for something worth snapping. Unlike some authors there’s no place I find inspiring and believe you me I have pounded the street looking for ideas in the past. You can’t force a good idea to come to you any more than you can encourage a cat to come to you by shouting at it.”

We writers must write  under all circumstances. If we were to wait around for inspiration, then it may be a really long wait. As writers we have to be our own inspiration.  Once we start writing, our words will  inspire the next lot of words, which will further inspire more words which will give birth to the next lot of words.

I tried this four days back. I was battling a vicious bout of virus, running a temperature and the medication was  making me sleepy. My Crit Partner had sent me her feedback on my MG fiction. She was waiting for me to make the changes. Frankly speaking, I was in no mood to write, my muse as usual was missing in action.

But, I forced myself to write. For the next fifty minutes, meaningless words escaped my head. I jotted them down, though I knew I would discard them later. The initial blank page slowly filled with words as the thought of my Crit Partner waiting for the last few chapters filled my mind. I ended up making the changes even in the midst of a virus with my muse gone on a holiday.

This is one habit all of us should incorporate into our writing life. We should and must set personal deadlines. Else, the manuscript will take ages to get written. Do you all force yourself to write irrespective of the circumstances? Or do you all wait for the muse to drop in? 


  1. I am a firm believer in inspiration. If I don't have a good idea, I wait for it before I start a new book.

    Same as while I'm writing. Still, I've found that changing my thinking has helped a lot. Instead of worrying about not writing and about lacking the idea needed to continue, I think about it as taking the break needed to find the idea that I KNOW is lying around somewhere. Now I generally get a sparkling idea within a manner of minutes, depending on the complexity of the problem. :-)

    As for writing through everything, I don't. Certain emotions and feelings warn me when it's time to stop, because I'm prone to burn-out when I write. And the recovery time to burn-out is much longer than taking a break until I feel better.

    But it just goes to show how all of us have different approaches to writing.

  2. I feel that I write on a fairly strict structure. I have my outline laid out and I know where I am going to go with the story. Good ideas and great ideas pop into my mind as I let the story unfold. If I can incorporate them, I do. Else I write them down to try and fit into a future chapter or book.

    I think it is better to write even if you are not in the best of moods than to not write waiting for that muse. It takes hundreds if not thousands of hours to write a book. Inspiration seems to last a few fleeting moments.

  3. Inspiration. Muse. No matter what we call it, we can't wait on it to visit. At least that's my opinion. But Rachna, you said you wrote meaningless words that you later deleted. Never think any words are meaningless. Put them in a folder marked meaningless words for later. You never know when you'll need those words for another story. And you'll give that folder a new name too.

    The more we wait on inspiration, the more anxious we become to the point of pulling out our hair. Writing consistently. That's what great writers do. No matter what. :-)

  4. I hear what you're saying here but NO, writers should definitely not wait for inspiration. Fact is, inspiration and ideas often come when writing. If all the best-selling authors waited for inspiration they'd never meet their contract deadlines.

  5. I used to wait for the muse to show up; I write no matter what. Having said that, there are occasions when the truly great ideas arrive and I feel like I'm on fire with my writing. They don't happen often. but when they do I can't put the pen or laptop down.

  6. @ Misha...until few days back, I was just like you; heavily dependent on the muse. On the days that I didn't feel inspired enough to write, I caught up with my reading, writing stories and articles for the newspapers and planning for my classes.

    @ SBJ...Nowadays, I make it a point to write, even when I am not in the mood to do so, and once I start, I find that the words after the initial hiccup flow quite smoothly. Its a habit I hope I will stick to.

    @ Robyn....I like the idea that we should not think that our words are meaningless. Thanks for the advice that I can put them in a folder for future use. I will start doing it immediately.

    @ D.U.O.....I envy writers who bring out books in quick succession and keep their deadlines. I agree that once we start writing the ideas flow.

    @ Ellie...yes..we writers are indeed unstoppable when the great ideas arrive. I have realized that instead of waiting for the great ideas, we just have to write and the ideas start pouring.

  7. I never wait of the muse to drop. I write regardless of the circumstances. There is always research to do, so when the brain says its taking the day off, I can aways do research or use Google Earth or look up customer reviews of places I use in my books.

  8. Great question, Rachna. Nope, I don't wait for the muse anymore. I don't usually force writing on any one topic, though. I've got so much I'm supposed to be writing on, I can pick and choose what's working on any particular day. That said, once I've nailed down a clear idea of what the next book is about (a lot of my writing these days is research data), I may have to do some forced writing. We'll see. ;D

  9. Great post. I also loved your previous one about moods. I've lost my muse lately and instead of waiting for a return, I need to MAKE the return happen. Hope you're feeling better :)

  10. I have to agree with Jim - ideas are everywhere! Some hit me with more force than others, but I always have paper and pen ready. I agree with you too, we must set personal deadlines. I need to get better at this. Working on it this summer! :)

    Have a great week!

  11. Hi, Rachna! I do whatever flows with me. I can see both sides, though. I have so many projects going, I know I won't be left for wanting--as in waiting for my muse to strike. I can slip into it's psyche easily.

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  12. Works both ways. Some need inspiration but some are gifted and can write under all circumstances.

    Get well soon. Bangalore has all kinds of viruses during this season.

  13. I believe in inspiration from everywhere and anything. Finding/thinking up an idea is being inspired, surely?
    I agree we should set ourselves goals and personal deadlines.Great post :O)

  14. As much as I enjoy chewing the cud about things like this my most fundamental ‘rule’ is to do what’s natural for me. I am a writer and I define a write as a person whose natural response to life is to write about it. I’m writing now. It’s not great literature but the fact is I’m expressing myself through the written word and I’ve very comfortable doing so. There are other things I do on a daily basis that are natural: I eat, I sleep, I exercise and everyone reading this will do exactly the same but not one of you will do any of those in the same ratio as I do or at the same times as I do and that will be perfectly natural for them. Writing mirrors life. You eat – you take in ideas, you sleep – you let those ideas take root, you exercise – you convert the ideas into words. Some ideas slip right through you, others you need to process for a long time before you can use them. But it’s all a part of the writing process. Personally I have a long gestation period. It’s not wrong, it’s just me. I’ve learned not to rush my writing just as I’ve learned to watch my diet. I don’t, for example, set deadlines but then I don’t have an agent champing at the bit for my next manuscript. I also have no problems letting a manuscript lie for years before returning to it. That would drive some writers potty but it feels perfectly natural to me. I’m not doing nothing while my manuscript is settling – I’m working on other things – but the most important thing is to give myself distance and with distance comes perspective.

    I think the worst thing any new writer can do is believe that there is a right way to do this writing malarkey. There isn’t. There are a whole variety of approaches and what works for one will not work for another. Yes, you can train yourself to work a certain way but a left-handed person who was forced as a child to write with his right hand will never become right-handed. Bear that in mind. Chuck a ball at him and his left hand will fly up to catch it.

  15. @ Stephen...even I tend to catch up with other aspects of my writing when the muse disappears.

    @ Victoria.....waiting for the muse can be a long and irritating one, its best if we have regular writing routines.

    @ Saumya...hope your muse returns fast. Just start writing and the muse will come back.

    @ Karen..I am hopeless at setting personal deadlines, I am never able to meet them.

    @ Elizabeth..I envy you the ability to slip into the pysche of your muse.

  16. @ Alka...I do need inspiration, but many times I have to do without it. Thanks for your wishes..I am trying to get rid of my virus, its troubled me quite a lot.

    @ Madeleine....yes...inspiration is indeed everywhere, it can just creep up on us and take us unawares.

    @ Jim....there is no fixed way to approach writing. Its different for each individual. We have to find the method that works best for us.

  17. Great post, and neat feedback, thanks for sharing:)

  18. If i waited for my muse I'd be waiting a loooooong time.

  19. I completely agree with Jim's comment. I see 'inspired writing' as something we can decide to write, but if we convince ourselves that some mystic part of is us temporarily missing then we're setting up our own blocks.

    I don't think I'm alone in finding, like an athlete, that I need to warm up. Most of the time I can't just sit and write and expect it to just flow, but if I sit down and work at it I find that after a warm up it starts to flow and I come up with (what I hope is) inspired writing.

    The way I see it anyone who wants to be a professional writer has to be able to show up for work. For us that means writing, not waiting for inspiration.

    I hope you get over the virus soon. It's no fun fighting them off.

  20. I definitely force through sometimes. I find that usually after a page or so, things get moving smoothly.

  21. Recently I have been making myself write. The things that caused my inspiration are now over so now I have no muse.
    It doesn't matter as much, I hope that I will be able to turn those words into something good.

  22. Inspiration IS a good idea, or it's habit - the work habit. Sitting waiting for inspiration is a mug's game, I've decided. I used to do it, and didn't get much done. Now I give myself a deadline (often a flexible one!) and have been amazed at how prolific I've become. (Though that brings its own dangers, of course!)

  23. Indeed, I believe in deadlines. They keep me sane. Inspiration does strike me in the form of an idea, but after that, it's just writing until the job gets done. Whether I am in the mood or not, once the story gets going, I work at it until it's finished. The writers who are published several times over are those who accept that idea that inspiration or not, the job of writing each book must go on.

  24. Hi Rachna,
    This is really an interesting and stirring note.
    Yes, writers need not wait for the so called inspiration,
    Your virus story made my day, very interesting and encouraging too,
    Yes writers need not waste their time for the arrival of inspiration,
    Yes, that comes automatically and unexpectedly. Lol
    Thank you for the new thoughts.
    Keep writing
    Hey, I joined long back but I am not getting any intimation of any
    New arrival I mean the new posts. Pl do the needful
    Best regards