Inspiring Ink – Annie Sisk

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Enough With the Inspiration Crap – Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Art

By Annie Sisk

 I know. I know.

Your book isn’t done. And it really isn’t your fault.

The problem is that you just haven’t been slapped upside the head by the Paranormal Mystery Muse. Or the Cowboy-Baby-Romance Muse. Or the Uppity Lit-Fic Muse. Whatever.

I am here to tell you to knock it off.

That excuse making. That muse crap. That whole belief that you just can’t write until inspiration strikes you with a cosmic two-by-four, peels open your skull like a banana, and pours the brilliance into your sponge-like, eager-beaver writer’s brain. That the fact that the muse hasn’t shown up in ages is the reason your manuscript languishes in Half-Finished Manuscript Hell.

Drop that nonsense like a hot potato, because I really want you to hear this next bit:

It isn’t that you haven’t written because she hasn’t shown up, cupcake.

She hasn’t shown up because you haven’t written.

“Inspiration” is often viewed as this lightning-strike kind of event – something that happens to us, outside of our control entirely. Whether you adhere to a set of beliefs that ascribes a spiritual source to it or whether you’re a confirmed rationalist, the act of being inspired is seen as an event that transpires according to some unknown set of parameters and catalysts.

According to this view – which we might call the “traditionalist’s view” – creative inspiration is an accident waiting to happen. But when it happens … well, you just can’t tell. It will occur or not-occur according to some set of principles or as a happy accident, depending on your belief system, and there’s diddly-squat the wannabe-productive-writer can do to hasten the occasion.

Now, some who ascribe to the traditionalist’s view suspect (or hope fervently, as you wish) that inspiration actually does have a recipe: that there’s a certain sequence of triggering factors which, if you could only (A) figure them out and then (B) set them up precisely, would actually cause the inspiration to bubble up, or descend.

It’s these folks who tend to develop protracted rituals and “musts” for their writing space and time:

  • There must be hot coffee in the mug with the quote from Virginia Woolf and the picture of the daisies on it.
  • The room must be set at 69 degrees, precisely.
  • The phone must never, EVER ring.
  • The writer must be wearing the lucky fuzzy black socks with the pink polka dots.
  • Etc., etc., ad infinitum…

Throw off one of these intricate details and the whole deal’s off.

Yet, there’s a growing view of creative inspiration that wholly rejects this notion of inspiration as something that happens to us, or even something we can call up with arcane magic spells. Call it the pragmatist’s view, if you like, because it’s all about getting the damn work done.

In a nutshell: It’s the view that inspiration shows up when WE show up, at the page, every day, rain or shine, hot or cold, Woolf mug or no, whether or not the socks can be found … that the muse is essentially a flabby muscle that needs to be strengthened through regular workouts.

You may be assuming that at this point in the piece, I’m about to tell you the traditionalists are all wrong, and the pragmatists are right.

Surprise: I have no clue. I don’t know of anyone who does know, because I’m not convinced there is one right answer.

Here’s what I do know, though: I know that uniformly, when I work with clients to develop creative routines and to treat their creative work as something to habitualize, regardless of whether rituals are involved or not, they report back that over time, that feeling of inspiration shows up much more often than not.

I also know that in my own writing, when I wander away from it for any period of time longer than a few days, coming back to it actually hurts, much like it hurts going back to the gym after a year of not working out. Almost exactly like that, actually.

Moreover, I suspect (strongly) that the reliance on “inspiration” as some outer force that may or may not grace you with its presence on any given day becomes a crutch for writers and other artists without a strong creative workflow habit to support their efforts.  It’s a copout. A way to excuse the lack of production, because, after all, how can it be your fault? The inspiration just wasn’t there!

I leave you with a challenge: try it.

For three weeks (21 days, or the length of time most productivity experts like me say it takes to form a new habit), create and adhere to a schedule for your creative work. Whether it’s one hour in the morning, two hours at night after the kids go to bed, or a full 9 to 5 shift, if you’re pursuing it full-time, pick a writing schedule and stick to it.

One caveat: Approach it with an open mind – indulge your inner research scientist, and just observe the results and effects. Bringing an anxious, goal-oriented frame of mind into creative work can often prove self-defeating. Simply leave yourself open to whatever transpires.

I’m not advocating taking all the magic out of your creative work, not at all. There’s got to be something slightly mysterious in the process – otherwise, why not simply return to the Land of Cubicles full-time and give up the whole writing thing altogether?

Rather, I’m suggesting that bringing a work ethic into your creative space can actually remove the creative blocks that are keeping inspiration at bay.

About Annie: 

Annie Sisk is a productivity coach and marketing consultant for artists and solo business owners. You can read more of her work at Pajama Productivity (http://pajamaproductivity.com). Annie develops websites and digital marketing strategies, too, from http://stagepresencemarketing.com. She’s working on her first novel, The Coven of the Moons.

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5 comments

  1. Great blog Annie, I have to agree with you. When I get stuck or feel “uninspired” I try to take some extra time to read. Reading seems to stimulate the creative parts of my brain, so I can pick up the writing pretty smoothly afterward. But I agree with you writing, especially if one considers themselves professional has to be done at will, not as inspired. Michael Jordan didn’t only score when he felt “inspired” he rose to the occasion and did it because it was his job. Eli Manning doesn’t refuse to take the field on a Sunday because he “just isn’t feeling it” He goes out and does what he’s good at. Writers need to do the same thing.

    1. Thank, Tim! Sports analogies- WHOOT I agree. You can read all the playbooks, visualize the runs down the field for hours on end, but if you don’t get your butt padded up (well – all of you, really) and get on the field and actually play. And not just once a month. (I hear this is a good way to get injured.) Every day, that’s how the pros do it.

  2. Fantastic, Annie! I always love reading your writing, and this is exceptional advice for us writers! Reminds me of Twyla Tharp’s advice in “The Creative Habit;” that creativity is not a random lightning bolt infusing divine inspiration into our creative endeavors, but a habit that must be consistently nurtured. And I agree with you — I find that the words and ideas flow much more freely when I am engaged in writing every day. Of course, being a 9-5 writer working for a university, I don’t have too worry too much about making time to write! The challenge becomes making time for my personal writing…and feeding that creative habit. Love your writing style and looking forward to your next blog! — Terri

  3. This is SOOO true! And it’s sage advice. Time to get writing more–I have two books I’m hip deep in, and need to finish the first before the second. (Actually…it’s more like finish the second, then the fourth. One and three are done.)

  4. This is a great blog. If we wait for creativity to strike, we have already closed it off. I write something every day. One day it may be a blog. Another day it may be responses to other blogs. I may outline what I want to do. I may write a non-fiction chapter or a poem. There is creativity, but also discipline to let those words flow. When I am totally blocked, I read as a way to “refill the brain” with words. When I am drained from writing, I give my mind a break by playing games. But every day I write.

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