Some thoughts on Inspiration, and writing anyway

How do you get inspired to write every day?

I get asked this question quite a bit…by writers and people who think they might like to be writers. It’s a question that popped up even more often when I was still teaching full time as well as writing, and even though my writing time has shifted from late-night to middle-of-the-day, the answer to that question hasn’t changed.

How do I get inspired to write every day?

I don’t.

I also don’t get “inspired” to do the breakfast dishes every day or exercise every day, but on most days, those things get done.

For the record, I like writing a LOT better than doing dishes, but I am trying to make a point here.  One doesn’t need to be inspired to do something in order to do that thing. One really just needs to get going on it.

Have you ever noticed that we don’t ask this question of people with too many other jobs?  I didn’t ask my mail carrier how she got inspired to deliver the mail today, nor do I ask my husband how he gets inspired to figure out the weather forecast.  I think that’s a real myth of writing…that we somehow need to be inspired or else shrug our shoulders and go have a cookie instead of writing that day. And it’s just not true.

Inspiration – true, holy-cow-I-need-to-write-it-down-this-very-second-because-I’m-channeling-the-goddess-of-creativity inspiration  — does happen, and when it does, it’s an amazing feeling and a true gift. But as a writer, I can tell you that it’s not a feeling that I have every day or every week or every month.  It strikes when it strikes, and that’s great. But if you want writing to be your job, you can’t really just wait around for those rare and sparkling moments.

The rest of the time, when I’m not feeling that rush of inspiration, I get myself writing the same way I get myself to go running or to yoga class on cold mornings, with some friendly, firm self-talk. “Hey, you chose this thing. Let’s go now. You’ll be happy about it once you get started.”

And so I sit down, and I start writing, and most often, I just write some stupid thing so I can say I started. But once I’ve made the commitment to show up for the work, something happens, and the next thing that shows up on the page is a little less stupid. And from there, if I just keep going and don’t stop to think about that stupid first sentence, some pretty good stuff shows up by the time I’m done.

So it’s really not about the inspiration. It’s about the showing up.

I’d also argue that inspiration is a whole lot more likely to strike when you’re there at your keyboard than it is if you’re upstairs watching Oprah.

It’s okay if you don’t feel inspired to write. If you want to be a writer, just write anyway. It will work out.

You should also watch this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she says some of the same things I just wrote but way more eloquently.   Watch the whole thing – the ending is my favorite part.


Tomorrow, I’ll some thoughts on faking it and feeling inspired even when you’re not.