Today I woke up early and went to a friend's house. She cooked breakfast for me and another friend (the one talked about in Exchange) and it was delicious. It was also definitely above my sugar limit for what I should be eating as a diabetic. I've been eating pretty okay all week, though, so surely a little bit of cheating is relatively harmless[1]... I also wrote and wrote and wrote. Once I'd written enough and felt sufficiently drained, I picked up a book.

The book I've been reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame. I'd expected a self-help book for creatives, but it's really more of a memoir with a creative focus. A YouTuber I really like and respect recommended the book and said it "changed her life", but I haven't connected with it in the same way. I'm not sure I like how she describes inspiration and ideas as these mystical, magical forces. I probably should have gotten a clue from the title, but I thought that the "big magic" was the act of creation. Instead, she describes inspiration as a magical, non-human force.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that when you make inspiration something magical, it becomes uncontrollable. I spent many years making excuses for myself, saying I couldn't write because "I wasn't inspired enough" on whatever day. That's just not good enough, especially not if you have to be creative on the regular in order to get paid. That being said, I still want to finish the book. It's good to get different perspectives. I just don't think I'll apply it to my own practice.

Here's two quotes that I've been thinking a lot about today about the same concept.

“Waiting for motivation or inspiration or time — it’s like expecting a present and receiving none. It’s like waking up on your birthday that nobody remembers, and you stumble around all day hoping that someone will spring out of an alleyway and besiege you with delicious cake or slap a gift into your hands except that doesn’t happen.

Nothing comes and you go to bed, unfulfilled and uncelebrated.”
— Chuck Wendig[2]

The blog post this quote is from was posted in 2015. I probably read it in 2015 originally and it really affected me even then, but it's only recently that I've been really letting that sink in, really kicking "inspiration" to the curb. It's easy to know the right thing, but it's much harder to do the right thing. Wendig also had this really great analogy about how dentists don't make excuses like "I'm not inspired enough to pull your tooth today", so why should writers? Dentistry is a sort of art, as well. That really rocked my world, especially since I grew up in a family full of dentists.

The way I think about inspiration is it's like a battery meter. If you only work all day and never take time to recharge your inspiration, you won't create good work. Good writers read a lot. Good artists consume a lot of art. Rest and relaxation are important. I believe that it's in those moments of rest that inspiration comes to us. At least, that's how I like to think about it.

Nowadays, if I feel blocked, I ask myself why. There's probably a reason: I'm tired, I'm angry about something, I'm hungry, the way this scene is outlined isn't working for me. I keep asking "why?" until I get to the core of the problem, and then do my best to fix it. After that, I'm usually good to go! It's better for me not to force myself to write when I feel blocked—I'll just have to toss out all that work, anyway. But it's also not good to ignore the problem or think it'll go away on its own. It won't. I have to figure it out.

“We have a finite amount of bad work in us, and an infinite amount of good work, so it's just a matter of burning [through] the bad pile as quickly as possible (aka keep making stuff)”
— Irene Koh[3]

When I first read this, I didn't get it. Like...wouldn't we have an infinite amount of bad work in us? But that's not true. The more you practice, the higher you raise your baseline. So eventually you'll get to the point where all you produce is good work. Maybe not everything will be an award-winning masterpiece, but it's hard to screw up when your baseline is so high. Look at authors like Stephen King who are constantly churning out books. Is each book absolutely amazing? No, probably not. But is each book pretty darn great? Heck yeah.

I'd like to really let this sink in. Practice makes perfect. What can I do to practice writing, to get better at prose? I think it's a little harder of a concept to picture than, say, sketching or doodling in art. I get so consumed with the idea that my first draft has to be perfect—or that the first and last draft are the same thing. But it doesn't have to be that way. I can do writing "doodles", too. I can practice by doing multiple drafts of a scene or writing flash fic. And I know that the more I do that, the more satisfied I will be with my work. I've done this unintentionally in the short term, but now I want to do it purposefully and with intention.

Lately it's been easier and easier to keep up my writing streak. Once you get into a routine, it's more natural to continue it than to stop. I want to carry this energy with me into May, as well, and practice writing all sorts of new things!

  1. This kind of thinking is probably why I'm diabetic in the first place. ↩︎

  2. From this blog post. I highly recommend his books and his blog, by the way, but this one was very important to me. ↩︎

  3. This is her tweet, but the whole thread is chock full of good advice. ↩︎