The myth of inspiration - The New Indian Express

The myth of inspiration

Published: 16th November 2012 12:16 PM

Last Updated: 16th November 2012 12:16 PM

Imagine this — a writer is sitting by the sea, staring at the moon as the cool breeze stirs subtle emotions in his heart. And then, suddenly, as he watches the shadows of ships floating in the water, inspiration strikes him. A novel is born.

What is wrong with this scene? Nothing. Except this is not what most writers do. Most writers are typing away furiously on their laptops or scrawling page after page to try and meet the deadline that their editor has imposed on them! In between completing mundane chores like cooking, cleaning, taking care of their children and even managing a full time day job. Consider Hugh MacLeod’s statement: The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props. Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece on the back of a deli menu would not surprise me.

Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece with a silver Cartier fountain pen on an antique writing table in an airy SoHo loft would seriously surprise me.

The truth in this situation cannot be enough emphasised.

While inspiration is useful, writing is more about hard work — the sheer will to pull yourself out of the innumerable distractions that life throws at you. No surprise then that Zadie Smith, one of the most respected contemporary writers of fiction, includes ‘Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet’   in her 10 Rules for Writing!

Writers are often romanticised by the rest of society. Their eccentricities and quirks are celebrated and indulged.

People assume that writing is a gift that the gods have bestowed upon the writer and that this is what makes it possible for him/her to write novel after novel.

While the ability to write is undoubtedly a gift, transforming it into the very practical act of bringing pen to paper cannot be achieved by the wave of a wand. It means slogging it out, draft after draft till you get it right.

Inspiration is merely the spark of an idea. To process the idea, to execute it, revise it, and then turn it into a body of work, the writer needs immense discipline, not the moon.

If you want to become a writer, the only way to go about doing that is to write. There are no shortcuts, no tricks. Many aspiring writers claim that they haven’t got to work because inspiration hasn’t struck them. It probably never will so long as they wait for it aimlessly. Writing demands practice; you don’t go to bed without having written a word and find yourself writing an epic the next morning. Even when inspiration does strike, it requires some amount of hard work previously invested in your trade to recognise it for what it is.

A line from a song, a scene from the street, something your mother said… all these sparks will flicker away if the writer in you hasn’t honed his/her art to capture these elements. 

Inspiration is a catalyst, not an excuse. So get off that couch and get writing!

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