Discipline and Inspiration

A lot of my writer friends like to treating writing like any other job: there are deadlines, quotas to meet, specific goals to achieve.  And I get that.  If you just keep endlessly working on the same book forever, you’re never going to get to publish it any move on to something new.  But I also feels like it gives short shrift to the creative aspect of what we’re doing here.

Everyone decries inspiration as a fickle, fleeting muse, as though waiting for it to make an appearance is a form of weakness in a writer and a sign that they’re not a True Author (TM).  As if the only way to really, truly being a professional in the field is to spend each day putting words on the page, some good and some bad, and then going back and editing them to make them all polished gold or something.

That strikes me as a bit disingenuous.  Each of us started writing because we were struck with some bit of inspiration.  Maybe it was just a scene, or a character, or even a word or phrase.  Maybe it was a line of dialogue, or the brief description of an action or something.  We all started from a place of inspiration, not a place of discipline.  And while I think it’s great that some writers can crank out words every day without concern for whether or not they’re good words (or they’re words that can be fixed in editing), I’d still rather take my time, maybe not get something on the page every day, and make sure I put down the right words the first time ’round.

And maybe that’s arrogance on my part.  Maybe I’m not being as clear here as I’d like to be.  Writing about writing is always fraught with hand-wringing and sounding full of yourself.  “The Process,” y’know.  I always roll my eyes when creative folks talk about their Process.  It sounds so pretentious.  And I’m sure talking of inspiration sounds that way, too.  It’s a lot more down-to-earth to talk about being a writer through the self-discipline of writing.  You sound like a human, or like anyone could do what you do if they just built that discipline themselves.

But I’m not sure that’s true.  Maybe it’s a bit elitist, but not everybody can do everything, even with discipline.  I could practice every day, hire the best trainers and go through intense regimens, and still never be a better basketball player than LeBron James or Michael Jordan.  I could push myself to practice for hours a day, doing riffs and runs and arpeggios, and never be as good a guitar player as Prince was.  Those are (or were) all highly-disciplined people who spent years honing their crafts, but they started with the inspiration.  I’m just saying maybe we shouldn’t discount that part quite so much.  Discipline without inspiration is just so much hard work for nothing.

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