We want our creative work to be fast and easy. Inspiration is the word we use for the magical shortcut. But is it worth the wait?

NaNoWriMo* 2018 has come and gone. While I met the word count goal for the 13th year in a row, what I was hoping for this past November never happened. I was hoping to get struck by creative lightning, to be inspired in a big way, to write like the wind under the influence of a muse of fire.

It never happened. Every day, as I finished my writing, I would ask myself what was next. If I was lucky, I had a bit or piece come to me, something I could write about and expand on, but never anything big.

No sudden vision of the entire book in one glimpse. No brilliant insight that meant my story was a work of genius. Some days I came back to the computer with nothing new at all. I dove in anyway.


This is not my best book, not by a long shot. I’m not even sure the story is worth pursuing further (although, as always, I’m attached to my characters and loathe to abandon them). But I’m still glad I took the time to work on this project.

Why? Because I learned something I had forgotten.

If I wait until I feel inspired, I won’t write a single word.

I’m not the only one to realize this. Other creators (musicians, painters, and of course, writers) have said as much.

Both Sullivan and Cohen have a similar idea about inspiration and creative work.

One day work is hard, and another day it is easy; but if I had waited for inspiration I am afraid I should have done nothing. The miner does not sit at the top of the shaft waiting for the coal to come bubbling up to the surface. One must go deep down, and work out every vein carefully. — Arthur Sullivan, composer

But why shouldn’t my work be hard? Almost everybody’s work is hard. One is distracted by this notion that there is such a thing as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. And some people are graced by that style. I’m not. So I have to work as hard as any stiff, to come up with my payload. — Leonard Cohen, on song writing

The painter Chuck Close has a rather blunt way of putting it:

Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work. — Chuck Close, painter

But my favorite take on all this is Madeline L’Engle’s. She tells us why waiting around for inspiration to strike is a bad idea.

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

My muse may have been on vacation last month (heck, so was I!), but it didn’t matter. What mattered was showing up anyway, writing anyway. Because the few good ideas I did have (and there were a couple) would never have occurred to me if I hadn’t made the effort to just do it.

What is your relationship with inspiration?


4 thoughts on “Waiting for Inspiration: A Bad Idea”

  1. Most of my blog posts are the results of epiphanies rapidly scribbled on a post it note. This year’s novel was so such thing. I struggled to no end choosing a topic, characters, setting, etc. I would love to see it come together some day, but November was not its month.

    1. While I’m sorry to hear you struggled, too, it’s nice not to be all alone with this. I’ve certainly had my Novembers where I was flooded with ideas and the novels seemed to write themselves, but it doesn’t always go that way, and it’s silly I guess to expect it. Wishing you great ideas for your next novel (or for improving this one).

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