Why We Should Practice While Waiting for Inspiration


If I waited for inspiration, I wouldn’t write anything at all. And yet this is exactly how I approach other art forms, like spinning or drawing. I expect to be able to just make things, wonderful things, as a result of a compelling vision or urgent promptings from my muse.

Sometimes it works that way. I’ve been quilting and knitting long enough to have a set of skills I can use when an idea is burning its way through my brain. Things come together quickly and if I’m very lucky, the final product resembles to some degree the thing I originally envisioned.

But the best way to work with inspiration is to be in training, to practice regularly, to spend time with the materials, to experiment with different techniques. That way, when the muse dumps an idea on me, I’m ready to get to work, and I have the skills to follow through.

One of the main reasons I want to be drawing more is because I have things I want to draw that are entirely in my imagination. I often see images of my characters or the setting from a story I am writing, but I cannot seem to get those images on paper.

It’s hard to draw trees if you haven’t really looked at them and know how they are put together. It’s even harder if you have no idea how to translate the reality in front of you into a representation made with lines, dots, and squiggles. Developing the drawing skill I need to capture my visions is going to take practice. If I don’t pick up my sketchbook until the idea hits, I’ll be disappointed with my attempts to capture it.

So today’s quote is meant as a reminder to me, not just for writing, but for any creative pursuit that interests me, from spinning yarn to illustrating my own stories:

I know writers who write only when inspiration comes. How would Issac Stern play if he played the violin only when he felt like it? He would be lousy. — Madeleine L’Engle

How do you feel about practice versus inspiration? Do you wait to be inspired? Or do you pursue your art no matter what?

2 thoughts on “Why We Should Practice While Waiting for Inspiration”

  1. I think it was Gail Godwin who said, “What if the angel came and I wasn’t at my desk?” That is, you write until inspiration comes. I know that that’s what I do, but I’m a pretty structured person.

    1. “Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning.” Igor Stravinsky

      This is what I’ve learned to do. Being disciplined about writing is hard for me, but it’s worth it. Most of my good ideas come while I’m actually writing, not while I’m sitting around thinking about writing. The more regularly I sit down to write, the more inspired I get. Not every day or even every week. But many more good ideas come from being “at my desk” regularly than do from waiting somewhere else for them to appear.

      Thanks for sharing this quote. I love it.

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