Periodically there’s a discussion on Twitter about whether to wait for inspiration to strike before sitting down to write. We all have that story that’s been ricochetting off the walls of our mind for years. But should we put it on hold until our muse smiles down upon us and graces us with much-needed ideation?
As with all things, I have some strong feelings about this.
1. Waiting for inspiration wastes valuable time
Want to finish your story? Want to publish it and transition to a full-time, professional writer? Want to change the world with your project? Then treat it like a job that requires your best effort every day.
If you sit and wait for your muse to come knocking, you’re going to wait a long time. And that time is finite, it’s limited, and it’s precious.
Worse yet, what if inspiration never shows up at your doorstep? Then what do you do?
I like what Stephen King said in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:
Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ‘til noon. Or seven ‘til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.
2. Inspiration comes out of your hard work
That’s right, your best ideas will come from the hours and days of toil you put into your writing. They come as you write sentences and tear apart them apart, over and over. They come as you dissect and deconstruct others’ stories, and include their ideas in your own writing. And your best ideas come as you discover key distinctions that no one else sees because they spent haven’t enough time.
Chuck Close said:
Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.
3. “Waiting for inspiration” is a euphemism that translates to “I’m bored, and I don’t feel like working”
Getting bored with your current project doesn’t make you special. It happens to everyone. We all crave novelty and excitement. We all spend a chunk of our time in an “I don’t feel like working” state. But successful folks keep working. Even when they’re bored. Even when they don’t feel like it.
Here’s what James Clear said in Atomic Habits:
Really successful people feel the same lack of motivation as everyone else. The difference is that they still find a way to show up despite the feelings of boredom.
So, there you have it. Waiting for inspiration is a waste of time. Inspiration is a byproduct of your work and will come to you to as long as you keep working. Even when you don’t feel like it.