Waiting for inspiration (Mistake #39)

I’m guilty of this. I’ll know it’s time for another mistake-writers-make, but I’ll dither about which one to cover. There are dozens in my ideas file, so you’d think it would be easy. But no, that one’s not quite right yet, that one’s a bit advanced, I’m saving that one for the 100th… there’s always an excuse. I’ll try to start writing one then think… blah, not really into this. Let’s have a cuppa instead. I need to be in the mood.

“I don’t wait for moods,” said the writer Pearl Buck. “Your mind must know it has to get down to work.”

Well, exactly. Other than rejection, what can be more dispiriting than sitting at a keyboard, waiting for inspiration to strike, fingers poised over your qwerty – and nothing coming out?

Don’t kid yourself that this is writers’ block. That’s a cop out. No, in non-fiction, if you’re ‘blocked’, if you’re busy not-writing, then you’ve not bitten off enough to chew: you have under-researched your idea and your writing saliva cannot flow. Get away from the keyboard and go research and fact-find. And if it’s the idea which is missing, then do likewise – go read or brainstorm or distract yourself. Those elusive brainwaves are unlikely to come when you’re staring at a blank screen, getting increasingly restless and picking at your nails. Remember Buck’s words: “Your mind… hast to get down to work.”

Have the idea? Done the research? In theory raring to go – but still finding yourself not-writing? Then you’re scared of doing wrong. Just write one line – however rubbish; then add another – however rubbisher. And carry on. You can make it less rubbish when you revise (you do revise and edit don’t you?).

Or maybe you don’t know where to start? Force yourself to start anywhere – and keep going. It may turn out to have been the wrong place to start, but you can fix that later. It’s all right to make that mistake – and to make any number like it (for we love mistakes here) – because (and it is worth repeating) you can fix it (or them) later.

It’s all about your attitude; it’s all in your head.

And know what you’re not doing now? You’re not not-writing, that’s what, and soon not not-writing drifts seamlessly into writing, and subconsciously you’ll have forgotten that there ever was a problem.

Comments 8

  • So right again, Alex! Most of my writing doesn't happen in a flash of inspiration; it happens because I have looming deadlines! It is pointless to wait for that brilliance to strike – in my case, it mostly never translates from my head to a paper, or when it does, it results in half-baked ideas that get left in an ideas folder, and are never revisited again!
    This reminds me of one of my fave Calvin and Hobbes quote:
    Calvin: "You can't turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
    Hobbes: What mood is that?
    Calvin: Last minute panic.

    Thank you for writing this one, Alex – I should probably go finish idea number 56 in my ideas file now!

  • Ha – thanks. Love the C&H quote!

  • Great post, Alex.

    I must admit I don't believe in 'writer's block'. No other profession gets blocked, does it? Oh, sorry madam, can't sell you those groceries right now, I'm till-blocked. Sorry sir, you may well have grown a strange lump on your face but the doctor is suffering from doctor's block, so he can't see you now. Wait till he's more inspired. No. They just get on with their job, don't they? And so must writers.

    I go running, in theory I go every week. When I fall out of the habit and miss a few weeks, I don't say I have runner's block; I just say I'm lazy.

  • Thanks womagwriter – I sort of take your point, but I've never been totally sure about those analogies with other jobs.
    Runner's block doesn't exist because there's only one way to run and one thing to do – put one foot in front of the other. We all know how to run. Writing something is different each time…
    And if you don't serve a customer – angry customer / you get fired. If you don't write – well, there's always tomorrow! (Unless there's a deadline – in which case Calvin has it right!)
    Maybe this is another post… One to ponder…

  • And writing is just putting one word after the other. Anyone who managed to get through primary school knows how to do it. Sure, quality can vary but the more you do it the better you get at it (like running), so the key is to just start (as you say in your article) and write something, anything, until you warm up and it begins to flow.

  • Yeah, journalists don't get an opportunity to wait for the mood, do they? I'm always picking up a magazine and reading a note from the editor saying, "Sorry, the pages in this month's issue are all blank because none of your writers were in the mood."

    I have to be in the 'mood' to put food on the table!

  • Great post and very very true.

    It is better to write something than nothing. You never know how good it is going to be until you do.

  • I may end up sounding as if I'm back-tracking on my own post here, but I'm slightly wary of sending out the message that must just 'write, write, write' no matter what.
    I think I'm referring to when you're dithering a bit, or when you want to write but you're not really doing it.
    It's key to your wellbeing that you spend a lot of time not writing too – but this is something I need to think more about in this context…
    Thanks for all your additional input everyone.

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