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.