Inspiration: a Fickle Mistress


Inspiration is one of those things that can either throw you into a productivity frenzy where you write constantly and never want to stop, or it can throw you into a funk and stop you writing for weeks.

It does the first when it hits sudden and hard and fills you with irrepressible creativity that you have to get out of you.

It does the second if you wait for it.

As Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Where Inspiration Comes From

No one knows.

Honestly, I could leave it there. I’m tempted to. But I won’t.

Like all the things we hate, inspiration works differently for different people. There is no formula. You might look at a daisy and be inspired; I might hear a strain of music and be inspired. Certain things inspire you that would never inspire me, and vice versa.

That being said, I’ll tell you where inspiration often comes from for me.

I am heavily influenced by the things I’m reading, watching, or listening to. If I’m reading Jane Austen (and I am, right now–I’m reading Emma), my thoughts will be filled with petticoats and flowery English and Mr. Knightly (who is severely underappreciated, by the way–for some reason, everyone is smitten with Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Knightly hardly gets an honorable mention).

And if my thoughts are filled those things, some element of Regency England or Jane Austen’s wit will weasel its way into my writing.

On the other hand, if I’ve just watched The Arrival, my mind will be filled with space and aliens and warped time. And that will flow into my writing, and I’ll have a weird futuristic science fiction on my hands. (This actually happened, by the way. I have a piece that I titled “The Arrival” because I wrote it directly after watching the movie and because it’s so heavily influenced by it.)

So that’s what inspiration looks like for me. Basically, I see what other people do and I steal it. (Just kidding. That’s called plagiarism, reader, and it is illegal.)

What To Do When Inspiration Comes



Or paint, or compose, or whatever it is that you do. Do it immediately.

Inspiration, wherever it comes from, is quick and fleeting and cannot be held down. So if you’re lucky enough to be struck by it, don’t waste the moment. Sit your bottom down and use it all up until it’s gone.

I can’t tell you how many times inspiration has filled me up to overflowing and I didn’t do anything with it. I thought it would hang around until I had free time to sit down and write without any distractions.

It doesn’t. If you sit there and keep working on your taxes, deductibles and credits rub out your creativity. So grab it while it’s there.

How To Chase Inspiration Down with a Club

Most of the time, inspiration does not float down to us on feathery wings of ease and enlightenment. Especially not at that moment when we sit down in front of a blank page. So we have to learn how to force it.

“What? You can’t force inspiration.”

The only book in the world that was inspired from beginning to end is the Bible. Every other book was wrestled and coerced and forced into being. Same with paintings, and music, and everything else.

Inspiration did not strike the masters of literature and guide every pen stroke. Maybe they started in a burst of inspiration, but I can guarantee you that in the middle of it, there was none of that. It was work, and work, and wasted pages, and more work. They had to force inspiration.

How did they do this?

They wrote.

Writing is the way to chase inspiration down with a club. Whatever you do, however you feel, inspired or not, just start writing.

At times, it might feel like trying to brush your teeth while eating an Oreo. It’s unpleasant and doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. But the hardest part is always right before you start.

So just start.

If you don’t, you’ll could spend forever waiting for an illusive, temperamental idea that might never come. It might, but it might not.

Like fate, gravity, and curly hair, inspiration is a fickle mistress.

Don’t wait around for it.

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