The Waiting Game

Waiting for inspiration can be dangerous. I’ve wasted days waiting, walking my dogs, staring at this screen, tapping on my desk. Given that life contains a finite number of days, and I’ve no idea how many more I have left, it’s infuriating to get to midnight and realise I’ve achieved nothing more than add to what’s already a mighty stockpile of self-loathing.

Waiting – and critiquing oneself while waiting – often leads to days which are not only unproductive but depleting. Birthday calls are not made, emails are ignored, and other mundane but necessary tasks are left undone.

So, there are three approaches to this that I can think of:

1. Forget inspiration. Writing is work. Force good work to come by working, putting one word in front of the other until you feel yourself picking up speed, writing a little more smoothly and then lifting off. Sort of like forcing the pedals on your bike to go around until you’re riding fast and effortlessly.

The worse case scenario is that you write for hours, see none of it is worth saving, press delete and start drinking. The best case scenario is you delete the first few pages/lines of drivel you wrote and then see you actually did produce a few lines/pages that might lead somewhere/be usable. The fast and effortless bit is probably as common as smiling cyclists, but I’ve heard tell…

2. Seek inspiration in other people’s writing, art, gardens, films, music. This will appear like stalling or time-wasting to outsiders but visiting someone else’s creations can be energising.

A few weeks ago I found myself bored with my writing, stuck mid-scene, mid-novel, not really caring about my characters or where I was going with my story. I walked through my house and gathered up novels I’d loved reading or had found impressive, put them in a pile on the living room floor and sat with pen and notepad and flicked through each book, stopping when I came to a part I liked. I read to see what made the writing work – why did it seem lively, compelling, lyrical, so wonderfully complex or profound or simple? Every now and then it occurred to me I could apply what I saw to my own work: look, she doesn’t use any adverbs; he wrote a whole scene of dialogue without any ‘he said’/’she said’ and yet I knew who was speaking; that’s how to transition from a memory to the present. I saw that I had too many characters and that I still wasn’t establishing place as well as the writers I admired.

I have a lot to learn, so I can pick up almost any book and be knocked backwards by what I don’t know. However, I found this a useful exercise. And it did lead me back to my desk with specific notes that I could act upon, so I had a clear way of getting back into my book.

3. Give in to feeling flat and uninspired. It won’t last forever. (It won’t.) Wait it out consciously, without beating yourself up. Do something practical than has nothing to do with your creative endeavours. Let your head rest.

I almost added Jealousy as a fourth point but while it’s a motivator, it’s not an emotional place that delivers much by way of inspiration. Reading a positive review of work you think shoddy – work by a friend especially – can be enraging enough to get you thumping at your keyboard but I’d suggest no great writing is produced this way. I could be wrong though. If fury, indignation or panic gets your juices flowing then make good use of them.

I can’t help anybody with points one or three, but for point two I’d like to offer a short video. My son showed me this. It a film about the artist Riusuke Fukahori who was stuck for inspiration and found it by watching his fish. (The fish in his art aren’t real by the way – they’re made from layers of painted resin.) I urge you to take a few minutes to watch this. It’s beautiful, and inspiring.

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12 Responses to The Waiting Game

  1. Donna says:

    You’ve probably heard this quote about writing a novel a million times but for me it always takes the fear out of it… “I[Writing} is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
    Hope you find your way back to your novel.

  2. Thanks Donna. It’s a good quote. I cling to the idea of bird by bird too. (My favourite book about writing is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.) Keeping an eye on your blog to see when/if you get a puppy. We bought Badger from a farmer in Ballarat, but Milly came from I like cats but a dog on a farm…it just makes sense:) x

    • Donna says:

      I’d get a rescue dog but we really need a dog who’s smart around snakes and can chase the kangaroos from the vineyard without hurting them, and respects prporty boundaries etc. Hence the Kelpie. We are off to Vanuatu in a week and then the hunt for a pup will be on. Here’s a facebook page from the wonderful guys at The Writer’s Studio you might like. Roland and Kathleen are so talented at helping people kep writing, which seems to be the hardest thing..

  3. Melita says:

    The painting of that tail was exquisite. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Melita says:

    Also, I watched this with my daughters and they loved it. They wanted to watch it a few times and this morning one of them said, “I would like to do that fish artist for news”.

  5. Siobhan Argent says:

    It’s so true – you really can’t achieve anything by sitting around waiting for something to happen, but you often can’t start writing on nothing, either. Usually I overcome writer’s block with a mix of things that counteract these two problems – I think of a question to ask myself about the writing/characters/development, and then literally start writing whatever comes into my head. After a while, something useful comes out.

    I read an article on Sophie Cunningham in Arts Hub earlier this year about the way she writes her novels. She said for a 100,000 word book, she writes 300,000 and deletes two thirds, culling it down to only the absolute best. So I’ve adopted that method and don’t worry so much if what I write is two-thirds crap!

    Anyway, good post. Very cheerful and inspiring 🙂

  6. Thanks for all of that Siobhan. Always a miracle to know anyone is out there reading. Must remember that when I write…
    I enjoyed that article by Sophie Cunningham too – it’s great, but I slump at the thought of writing 300,000 words. I slash away at my writing mercilessly but to generate that much, ever, is daunting.
    All the best with your writing.

    • Siobhan Argent says:

      I don’t know if it’s that hard. If you do it free-form I don’t think it would be too bad, and as long as you don’t expect to pound out 3,000 words in one sitting. Half the time I just want to rectify something in my characterisation, and I start writing, and it’s only 500 words but it’s better than nothing and it’s easy to do that regularly. By forgetting about it being perfect or even usable I’ll hopefully be able to cut away the crap and find something useful. Always a bit of a gamble though, isn’t it? You never know what you’ve got until you sit down and look at it.

  7. beautiful clip- so quiet and lovely- makes me want to sit in a white room and meditate for a while…and then maybe do some writing…
    thank you for that

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