Thursday, 25 October 2012

A QUESTION OF INSPIRATION

Hello, my lovelies! Thursday has crept up on us here at the blog again and it's time to answer a question from the delightful Isabel, long-time blog commentor. She says:
I have a question for you that I couldn't really find in the "all about writing" section. I don't know if it's a problem with me or my story, but recently (like the past couple of months or so) my creative juices have sort of stopped. I've been able to write stuff, but it doesn't feel quite right, because I'm not as into it. Is this just writer's block, or something bigger, and have you experienced it before? Is it maybe a problem with the book I'm working on? I know that you've talked about periods in your writing life when you've felt really uninspired, so I thought you'd be the best person to go to about this.
OK, so here's the thing. You're a busy student and you have a lot of lessons and homework and extracurricular activities that you're pouring your time and your creative juices all over. Writing is only one of the things that you try to cram into your day. It's very natural that sometimes you don't quite have enough creative juices left to give you that sense of inspiration for your writing.

If you are not enjoying what you're working on right now, or something feels off no matter what you're writing, there's always the Take a Deep Breath post for ideas on how to get your fun back. But at the end of the day, for you, Isabel, writing is a hobby. Forcing yourself to do it if it doesn't feel right is the last thing in the world that you should do. Enjoy having the luxury of being able to put your incomplete stories aside to work on other things, or just to read or listen to music or lie around daydreaming.

BUT -

(and this is a big but)

If you do intend to become a professional writer one day (which you may, or may not intend to do right now, and either way is fine!) you will need to get used to writing without inspiration.

A lot.

I mean, like, about 50% of the time. If not more.

When you (this is the plural 'you' now, addressing all the Dear Readers) do this for a living you're probably writing five or six or even seven days a week. On a full working day (a day when I'm not looking after my dad, or being forced to do housework and chores in order to avoid living off pickles and stale bread in a pigsty) I probably start work between 9:00-10:00am and write until 1:00. Then I have lunch and take my dog for a walk and usually get back into my Writing Cave at around 2:15. I carry on writing until 5:00 or 6:00 or, some days, 8:00 at night.

Of course, when I say 'writing', what I actually mean is 'trying to write'. And that might include making notes, researching, doing outlines, or even dropping onto Twitter to cry about my pathetic wordcount and be patted on the head by Twitter Pals.

But even so? That is a lot of hours. There is no way anyone could expect to be inspired for that many hours a week. It just isn't possible.

Here's what I've learned from being a full-time writer (although I've kind of already figured it out before that - being full-time just made it a certainty): you don't need inspiration to inspire your readers.

Yes: you need a spark to bring the story to life in your head. Yes: the days when you are lit up with creative fire are fun and wonderful. Yes: we all LOVE inspiration and wish we had it more.

No: no one can tell the difference when it comes to reading your work.

Trust me. Pieces of writing that I hated, that felt like they were dragged out from under my skin one word at a time with splinters of bamboo, have turned out to be my editor's favourites. Pieces that almost wrote themselves with no input from me, in a blaze of perfect inspired beauty, ended up being ripped apart and completely re-written or even cut all together.

Here's a fact that many people (up until now) didn't know. FrostFire, the Daughter of the Flames companion that came out in the UK this year? I wrote about 99% of that without feeling inspired at all.

I loved the story, I loved my characters, I loved my setting. I wanted to write it. I was passionate about it. But for some reason (maybe because it was my first book written as a full-time professional) once I actually started to put words on the page, build scenes, create a story? Every feeling of intuitive, natural, smooth writing just dried up.

I still went into the Writing Cave every day and produced 2000 words. Because I was under contract and everyone was waiting for this book and that was my job and the story was never going to get finished unless I just put one word after another until I reached The End.
  
Now, most books are thankfully not like that. But no book I've ever written has been the product of 100% inspiration. Not only do you have to write on days when it feels like you'd rather stick a fork in your eye and swirl it around, but afterwards, when you've submitted the manuscript, your agent or editor (probably both) will come along and ask you to write new scenes in order to fill gaps or resolve plot threads or improve the development of relationships, and of course those are going to come out of thin air too.

The point is that even without inspiration, so long as the words still come, then that's OK. No, it won't necessarily be as much fun, but provided you still do your best and revise and edit in the same way, no one but you will ever be able to tell which chapters were a slow painful slog to write and which were lovely, inspired joy. No one will even care.

FrostFire is my editor's favourite book that I've written so far. My mum thinks it's the best thing I've ever done too. I honestly don't think that it would have been a better book in any way if I had written it under the influence of The Muse, even though it would probably have been a lot more fun here in the Writing Cave.

So my advice to you, Isabel: keep writing if you really want to tell that story and see how it all turns out. You're not 'selling out' or doing anything wrong by not writing only in a blaze of inspiration. But don't make yourself miserable or force yourself to write it you're hating it either.

You only have to do those things when someone has paid you. *Sigh*

10 comments:

Llinos Cathryn Thomas said...

It's always reassuring to hear this stuff, especially when so many people like to make out that if you didn't write it in some sort of inspiration trance then it's not 'real writing'.

Also I love the image of pouring creative juices...

Megha said...

This is kind of a relief to know, because sometimes I get uninspired and don't write because I think it'll turn out badly, but now I know that I should still give the writing a go! :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Llinos: Pfft. Me thinks those guys are protesting too much. And yes, everything tastes more delicious soaked in creative juices...

Megha: I think you just never know what the actual quality of a scene is when you're writing it - regardless of whether it was written in a blaze of inspiration or painfully and miserably. You're too close; the last person in the world who can judge whether something is decent or not. So just write it anyway and you can figure out if it's any good later, when you're able to look at it and see the words on the PAGE instead of the story that was in your HEAD.

Kate said...

Time is so scarce that sometimes I'm not really in the mood but I know if I don't take the opportunity to get words down then it's time wasted. So I make myself write and after a couple of lines it all starts to flow :-)

Zoë Marriott said...

Kate: Whatever rare inspiration is floating around out there in the ether is 100% more likely to visit the person who's already writing their brains out than the one who is playing Halo in the basement...

Isabel said...

This is really good advice, Zoe. Thanks for answering my question so thoughtfully!

Zoë Marriott said...

You are very welcome, Isabel! Good luck :)

amycelestia said...

Sometimes I just don't feel like writing either. I can't seem to find the motivation and I sit there sighing at my notebook and chewing my pen, it's frustrating. But it's reassuring to know I'm not the only one! Thanks for the advice :)

Megha said...

Yep, sometimes I write stuff thinking it's amazing, and I read it the next day and it sucks! :P However sometimes I write stuff thinking it's rubbish and read it the next day and I love it... So I should just write more rubbish! ;)

Rebecca Lindsay said...

Megha: Haha, that is exactly what happens to me too! :L

Zoe: Thanks for the good advice :)

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