Last week, when we were talking about setting tiny goals to get started, reader Mary Anne Benedetto posted a comment about a student of hers who said, “I can only write when I’m inspired. What if I’m not inspired at the appointed time?”
This is part of what was driving my friend crazy last week when he asked how one gets started. It’s all well and good for me to tell him “Sit down and write a sentence,” but that leads to the next concern, “I don’t know what to say.” People often think they have to be inspired to come up with anything readable. It would be lovely if being a writer was like being a character in an Edwardian romance. Travel to Italy for the entire summer, lease a villa and write with a enameled fountain pen on creamy ivory paper while staring out at the view of a Tuscan vineyard or the blue waters of the Mediterranean, waiting patiently for inspiration to strike. Trouble is that inspiration is like a wild animal, and is way smarter than the hunter.
Inspiration is not the kind of beast that follows schedules. You can’t depend on it to show up at all. Every time I’m home for a teacher workday, I wake up terribly excited about having the whole day to write…and then I find myself staring at the screen, without any idea what I should write. I have all this time, so where’s that inspiration? It heard me coming, and now it’s hiding in the brush, snickering quietly as it watches me hunt for it.
Stop worrying about getting your hands on inspiration. Chase it and it’s going to run. Instead, sit down. Open the word processor (or pull out the legal pad.) At first, there’s nothing. Your thoughts are scattered, still wandering back to the day, but if you relax and let the words spill out, soon you’ll producing a sentence, then a paragraph and then a page. Don’t wait on the inspiration – lure it out into the open by pretending you don’t care. Before you know it, it’s curling up at your feet. On the next day, do it all over again. Inspiration may never come when you call it, but it’ll show up more quickly the next time you sit down to write.
And you’ll have a story.