How productive writers find inspiration

Richard North

I enjoy talking to other writers about their work techniques and different approaches. Many roads lead to Rome: some plan meticulously, others just write straight away; some do not write on the computer but prefer to write by hand or even dictate their texts; some need the quiet of their study to work, while others feel most creative in the lively atmosphere of a café. Everything is fine, as long as it works for you. But again and again I can only be amazed when a writer at a regular authors' table or something similar tells us that he relies on his inspiration (or "his muse") when writing.

These writers tend to share several characteristics:

  • They say they only write when they feel inspired.
  • They often suffer from writer's block.
  • You seldom published more than one book. Most of them don't. They have been working on their one Magnus Opus for years and are still waiting for the divine inspiration that lets the words flow through their fingers on paper or on the screen. That is why they love films like “Shadows in the Sun”, in which the brilliant writer pounds his equally brilliant manuscript into his old typewriter in a creative fever within a very short time after the Gordian knot of writer's block has finally broken.

Sorry if I sound a little sarcastic here, but it all fits together for me.

Nothing against inspiration - a fine thing, just like tailwind when cycling. But you can never rely on it. You also have to get there when the wind blows cold and rough instead of pushing you.

There are enough good quotes about inspiration and its role in the life of a writer, from Jack London (“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to chase them with a club. ") to Peter De Vries ("I write when I am inspired and I make sure that it happens every morning at 9:00 am.").

For me, inspiration is similar to a good bluff in poker: It's a lot of thieving fun when you can use a pair of jacks to get someone who has a full house to fold. But bluffing and a good poker face alone will not get you very far in the long run, and sooner rather than later you will go down mercilessly. Playing poker also requires good strategy and logical thinking - just like writing.

It's the same with inspiration: Sometimes a great idea for a story appears out of nowhere that won't let you go and that puts a big grin on your face. But if you want to write regularly and continuously, you cannot rely on these random inspirations, you have to learn to generate one new idea after the other with the reliability of a Swiss watch, even without inspiration.

These 'fabricated' ideas often don't seem as brilliant to you as those that come unexpectedly out of nowhere, but that doesn't have to be right. Even the cook often does not like his own food as good as his guests and no magician can be just as amazed at his own tricks, which have been rehearsed hundreds of times, as can the surprised audience. The chef knows which spices and preparation steps create the taste that his guests can enjoy with relish, just as the magician knows only too precisely where the rabbit in the top hat really comes from and which mirror tricks he uses to drive the car in front of them Could make his audience's eyes disappear.

Our 'fabricated' ideas do not have the same magic for us as those which inspiration or the muse have given us. We see the gears inside and we know what they are made of and how we got them to work. But our readers don't know, and it doesn't matter to them either.

The other point is that inspiration is never enough to turn an idea into a complete novel. Maybe a short story - that can work. I got the idea for “mirror shadows” while driving at night and couldn't find peace at home until I had put the entire story on paper. But a novel is something completely different.

If we rely solely on the occasional lightning strike of inspiration in a mammoth work like an entire novel, writer's block (in plain language: "The lack of inspiration") preprogrammed and the novel project mutates into a life's work.

The original idea that may have given us inspiration is often nothing more than the seed from which the story develops. Sometimes it turns out to be the heart of the story, but just like a human body consists of much more than one heart, an exciting novel worth reading needs much more than just a brilliant central idea.

Preserve the inspiring ideas that your imagination seems to give you out of nowhere and learn to embed them as a central element in a much larger whole that you construct around your original idea like an architect or engineer. In the large mosaic of your novel, the one red jewel that your inspiration gave you can become the eye of the dragon that dominates the total work of art.

Apart from the fact that you keep, cherish, nurture and grow the ideas that your inspiration or muse whispers to you, you should, however, detach yourself from inspiration instead of becoming dependent on it.

Practice writing every day whether you feel “inspired” or not. Believe me: in retrospect, it will even be difficult for you, when you are revising, to distinguish the passages you wrote on 'uninspired days' from those that you 'inspired' put on paper.

But the most amazing thing is that once you have learned to write just as productively and creatively even without inspiration, you will notice that the number of great, 'inspired' ideas your subconscious gives you constantly increases.

It's the same everywhere in life: if you are unemployed, nobody will give you a job - but if you apply from a position that has not been terminated, you appear much more interesting to the companies. If you are a long-term single, you are as good as invisible to the opposite sex - but if you are in a steady relationship, this is what makes you appear really attractive to some. It's the same with inspiration: if you desperately beg for ideas to overcome your writer's block, the muse will starve you to death on your long arm. But when she sees that you continue to write happily and productively without her, she jumps around you like a neglected puppy and tries to win our attention back with tricks and great ideas. ;-)

The unexpected flood of 'inspired' ideas, when you actually don't need them anymore, can of course also have to do with the fact that you have already got used to creating new ideas every day using creativity techniques as raw material for your own writing.

And just as children build the most imaginative structures out of loose Lego bricks, our subconscious also has enough raw material with the remains of our 'idea production' that we have not been able to use up to now to be able to combine with each other to amaze us with the results that have emerged .

And the nice thing is: you can use these ideas with the peace of mind that you will never have to wait for an 'inspired' replenishment of ideas.


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This entry was posted in WritersWorkshop E-Zine and tagged Ideas, Inspiration, Creativity Techniques, Creativity, Muse, Writer's Block, Writing by Richard Norden. Permanent link to the entry.