Monday, October 18, 2010

Inspiration vs. Writing Every Day

I subscribe to the Guide to Literary Agents newsletter, and last month they asked about writers who write only when inspired vs. writers who write every day. Is there a need to write every day, or should we just write when inspired?

For me, there are two sides to this question. 1) Sitting down to write even when you're not inspired. 2) The actual ability to sit down and write without any other obligations getting in the way. These have two very different answers, so I want to tackle them separately.

1) Sitting down to write even when you're not inspired.
I believe in making inspiration come to me rather than waiting around for it to fall in my lap. So, I'd rather sit down and get to work even if inspiration is being elusive. However, I don't believe in forcing the words. If you sit down to write and it takes twenty minutes to get three crappy sentences on the page, then something is wrong.

The standard argument used here is that you can't revise an empty page, so bad words are better than no words. But I disagree. When I write something truly awful, I almost always end up deleting it and starting over (because it's just plain too horrible to revise). So, when I get myself into a situation like this, I stop writing. BUT, I don't walk away. Instead, I'll do some brainstorming exercises, journaling from the MC's perspective, or other tasks to help me figure out why the story isn't flowing properly. Once I figure it out, then I can get back to writing.

So, I think that instead of sitting down and writing every day, one should sit down and do something related to writing: brainstorming, planning, research, journaling, etc.

2) The actual ability to sit down and write without any other obligations getting in the way.
As much as I would love to write every day, I can't. I have a family, and I want to spend time with them. Because of everyone's schedules, it's not possible for me to carve out writing time every single day. So, I write on the days that I can, and don't write on the days I can't. For this reason alone, I don't have the luxury of waiting around for inspiration to strike because I can't sit down to write anytime I want.

Instead, I set up a writing schedule, which I stick to religiously. On my writing days, I either write or do something related to writing. Always. Some days, the words flow so quickly I can hardly keep up. Other days, it's like banging my head against the wall. But I stick with it, and the end result is always worth the work I put into it. If inspiration happens to strike on a non-writing day, then I jot notes in a notebook that I always keep handy. This may sound overly complicated, but if I didn't have this schedule then I would never get any writing done.

Basically, though, I think what the question of Inspiration vs. Every day is really asking is this: do you have what it takes to stick it out? Writing is hard work. Whether you write every day or need to be inspired in order to write, you still need to be able to come back to your story again and again in order to make it the best it can possibly be. If other things keep getting in the way (or if the “I’m not inspired” thing is really an excuse), then you’re never going to get there. If you truly need to be inspired in order to write, then find ways to get yourself inspired as often as you possibly can.

Keep working, learning, and pushing that envelope, and you'll get there in the end.


Anonymous said...

I show up every day, but I need some kind of inspiration to write something new. Fortunately, 90+% of writing is rewriting, which I can do whether I'm inspired or not. :-)

Tabitha said...

So very true. :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Awesome. And having time to write is generally enough to inspire me - when it's not, I do just as you do, the prep work to make it happen.

Great post! :)

Tabitha said...

Good for you! I prefer to put inspiration on my own timetable rather than let it jerk me around. :)

Merc said...

I'm kinda a mix of both, in varying degrees. I WILL sit down and write, but there are days it just ain't happening, so I let it go and do something else. And that's okay (for me).

Life happens and I like to participate once in awhile ;) so I keep the writing flexible and still manage to be productive, even if it's not every day.

Good topic! It's something I periodically circle back to, thinking about various sides of the issue.

Mary Witzl said...

I force myself to write dross sometimes. When I go back and rewrite, it's pretty depressing, but I have found that I can almost always turn it into something better. Usually it's just a matter of turning telling into showing or fixing inconsistencies.

One thing I've found is that when I can't write it's because I haven't worked out the underlying issues about what I'm trying to write. Either I haven't made up my mind about my protagonist's feelings or intentions or I'm confused about how to develop the plot. Then I just need to go and think it all out, walking or cycling or swimming -- which is when I finally get the exercise I need.

Beth said...

I think you're right about writing every day vs waiting for inspiration being a question of sticking it out. I write 2000 words a day, but I also work full time and like you have a family. There are days when I don't get to write. But on average, 2000 words a day. If I write 2000 words and they suck, I delete them. I rewrite them tomorrow all 2000. Most of the time something of that 2000 is useable and some days every word of it is. If I didnt write on days I didnt feel like it, I would never finish anything...When I was in college one of my writing books said that if you want to write for pay it's like any other job. You don't wait for inspiration to rake the leaves, fix what's broken, or make dinner. Why would you wait for inspiration to write?

Tabitha said...

Merc - sounds like it's working for you since you're productive. :) I like to revisit this topic every now and again, too. Especially after I've learned something big and my process changes.

Mary - LOL!! That's when I get my exercise, too. And it works! It almost makes me wish I'd get stuck more often, because then I'd be in better shape. Keyword: almost. :)

Beth - it's so hard to balance the family with the writing, isn't it? I struggle with that every day, even with my writing schedule. Not sure I'm ever going to find the right balance, but time will tell, I guess. :)

Elana Johnson said...

I'm in the non-writing every day camp. I think there comes a time in your life where this doesn't define you as successful or not. Writing every day doesn't make me a writer. It doesn't make me successful or not successful. I write. I'll get the book out, and I know myself well enough to know when I'm letting other things keep me from doing that.

And good for you for putting your family first!

Tabitha said...

You've just proven that it's not necessary to stress over this whole when-do-I-write thing. :) If you're confident enough in your ability to get your work done, then it doesn't matter when you write. :)