Inspiration or Not

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“Oh for a Muse of fire, that would ascend. The brightest heaven of invention.”

That’s from the opening of Shakespeare’s Henry V, or Henry the Fifth for non-Roman-numeral snobs. Sure it’s about setting the stage for the play, but it’s also about inspiration and creativity and the relationship between the two.

All true writers and artists have and use creativity in their craft. They reveal the world as they see it, and we read their books and look at their paintings and sculptures and listen to their music, because something in their revelation speaks to us.

Then there’s inspiration. The spark that ignites our creativity, or so we wish. People think that a writer, I don’t know, shops at Costco or something until inspiration seizes him. He throws down his enormous case of toilet paper and runs for the parking lot, rummages around in the back seat for a notebook or scraps of paper and begins to capture his masterpiece. All delirious and visionary like Joan of Arc or that guy in the original Heroes TV show whose eyes would glass over white and he’d paint the future.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Other people think that Shakespeare’s Muse of Fire visits us and fills us with inspiration like you’d gas up your Accord. Don’t forget to do the windshield and check the oil.

Also incorrect.

And not just because instead of a Muse of Fire, I have a muse of contempt and cheap wine. Honestly, deadlines are much more motivating than any muse I know.

Writer Tom Hoover on InspirationInspiration is like the gruel they serve in Oliver Twist. It’s enough to keep you upright and taking on air, but only just barely and you don’t get to ask for seconds. In fact, most of the time, inspiration only finds you after you’ve already started creating. You’re a couple hundred words into your writing goal for the session and without even realizing it, you know the next step the story will take. You feel and intuit the next brush stroke. Hear the next chord.

But sometimes you don’t even get inspiration like that. It takes sweat and staring and pacing and walks around the block. Scribbling notes, crossing them out, scribbling some more. Typing a chapter, realizing it’s wrong, and deleting the whole damn thing.

Author Anne Tyler said that if she waited until she felt like writing, she’d never write anything at all. Some of us call “feeling like writing” inspiration.

If all this seems negative, trust me, it’s not. It’s just for clarification.

See? In spite of everything I wrote here, the truth is that I love writing. I love it when it’s hard, and I try to persevere.

It’s easy to create when you’re inspired.

Artists do it the hard way.

Inspiration or not, here we come!

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