Writing – Inspiration, Perspiration or Persistence?

Since I came back from Venice, I’ve been struggling to write. This is so frustrating. The end of the first draft is in sight, the chapters are planned, but I CAN’T WRITE.

I’ve found myself pondering – not for the first time – the question in the title of this post. What’s going to get me writing? Do I leave it until inspiration arrives? Should I go off and do something completely different while I wait for that magical moment of inspiration? oh yeah

Or do I sit at the computer doggedly, not giving up even if I only manage to squeeze out a measly couple of hundred words of pedestrian prose?Hoping the computer will reel me in.When I give talk about my books and writing, I’m often asked about the writing process. About whether I have to feel inspired to write. And my answer always involves something apparently unrelated. If you want to lose weight, you can’t leave it until you feel like eating less. If you want to run a marathon, you can’t train only on the days the sun is shining, you feel energetic, and a run in the park appeals.

A few weeks ago, I watched as the Tour of Britain passed within five minutes of where I live. As I took in the amazing sight of these guys sweeping round the corner and disappearing from sight in seconds, it came home to me again that success is not to do with feeling inspired.

IMG_1585 croppedThey didn’t get to be the super-fit cyclists they are by waiting until they felt like a bike ride. They had to get on their bikes when it was cold, they didn’t feel well, their muscles ached, when all they wanted to do was NOTHING.

And there’s the answer. The reason I spent several miserable days last week and this staring at the computer, forcing myself to put one word after another on the screen, each one seemingly harder to achieve than the one before. And I believe the reason why yesterday the sun came out and I wrote 1000 words without any anguish in a couple of hours before I had to go and take a class.

As Picasso said:



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  1. Debbie Young says:

    Spot on, Lindsay! If all authors only wrote when they felt inspired, there’d probably be only about three books in the world.

    Have you ever tried forcing the muse by doing NaNoWriMo? I’m just gearing myself up to try it for the first time next month. It compels you to write 50,000 words in a month – and you can flag up your progress in public to spur yourself on, if by the embarrassment of having to admit you’re behind, if nothing else! I’ve taken a similar attitude to giving up alcohol for a bit by doing Go Sober for October – the fact that I announced it publicly long in advance makes it much harder to stick with it. I’ve not raised much money but it’s doing my self-esteem a lot of good! (More info here: https://www.gosober.org.uk/profile/authordebbieyoung)

    I’ve also discovered that voice recognition software can be really helpful to make me write more. You just sit there and tell your story rather than typing it, which makes it much easier than physically bashing away at the keyboard. I’m using Dragon – not all the time, but occasionally at the moment, but suspect it will get a lot more use during November (see earlier comment!)

  2. Lindsay says:

    I haven’t done NaNoWriMo, Debbie. I don’t think it would suit me, and although I need to rack up the words in the next few weeks, it wouldn’t be the right time to try it as I reach the final stages of my novel. But I might declare myself on my blog, so that I have got that element of being embarrassed if I don’t achieve much.

    Well done on Going Sober for October. Did you mean announcing it publicly makes it harder to stick with? I would have thought easier. I did know you were doing it – I was the first to contribute to your fund!

  3. “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp” – W. Somerset Maugham.

    Love that.

  4. Maureen Hall says:

    You are right, as always, oh Mentor. I’m going to take your advice, starting today. The blank sheet (and mind) await …

  5. Lindsay says:

    Good one, William!

  6. Lindsay says:

    Turn up at the desk, Mo. I’m convinced it’s the only way.

  7. Polly says:

    I wondered what I was about to read when I saw the title of this post…should have known better! Slog at it, Lindsay – the result will be worth it 🙂

  8. Rosemarie says:

    So … it’s a case of on my bike then! Loving the quotes.

  9. Lindsay says:

    I hope so, Polly. Thanks for the encouragement.

  10. Lindsay says:

    Definitely on yer bike! Yes, I love the Picasso quote.

  11. Lisa says:

    Love the Picasso quote too. The way I look at it, writing doesn’t have to be all or nothing, inspired vs stuck, flowing vs forced. If sitting at the keyboard isn’t getting you anywhere, what would? Play with paper. Write in circles. A dialogue with coloured pens. Interview a character/animal/piece of furniture from the novel. Have them write a poem. Take a walk in character. Or just sit, with your attention on whatever you’re working on. See what thoughts arise. (I use an egg timer. It’s amazing how many thoughts you can have in 5 minutes!) Etc. If that all feels like a waste of time, you’re close to a breakthrough!

  12. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Lisa. Some great ideas for shifting things.

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