Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Just Get The Words Down

In this blog entry, Inspiration Vs. Obligation: The Great Creativity Debate, the writer muses about when she gets her words down in her blog, whether she just plunks herself down in a chair and writes at a set time, or whether she waits for inspiration to strike. An excerpt:

Ali’s recent post discouraged us from forcing creativity. If you don’t feel it, she said, don’t write. Yet Gretchen recommends sitting down and writing every day, because you’ll get in a rhythm and stay connected to your material.

Well, which is it? Should you force yourself at your blogging, even when you don’t feel the inspiration, or wait patiently for the muse to visit, hopefully before you lose your readers through neglect? I’m curious to hear how you approach this question. After all, blogging is about content, right? If we can’t generate content on demand, what are our chances of being great bloggers?

As a professional writer, I’ve had plenty of time to consider the inspiration vs. obligation (or creativity vs. productivity) question, and I think the best answer revolves around self-awareness.

Do I write my best work when I’m inspired? Who knows? Over time, the idea of “creative inspiration” has become immaterial. I just write. I know when I have a wild rush of ideas, and I know when my mind seems more suited to the more predictable work of editing and polishing my content. But through the process I outlined here, the magical, mystical quality of “inspiration” has been replaced by the more sustaining notion of reliable output—output being, by its very nature, creative.

How do you manage the balance between inspiration and obligation when it comes to creating content for your blog?

In a way, it's similar to writer Salman Rushdie's attitude toward inspiration, that it's just a lot of nonsense, and that writing is more about focus and concentration. An excerpt:

Question: You’ve said that the act of writing transforms you into the best version of yourself; is it inspiration?

Salman Rushdie: It’s not inspiration. It’s concentration more and it is to do with developing skills of concentration and I think that is something which, well a few things I think about being a writer that you get better at with time. There are things that you perhaps don’t get better at. Energy is something which maybe declines, but I think concentration, focus, the ability to shut out the extraneous and focus on what you’re doing. I think the more you do it the better you get at it. I think that is true and I think it’s also true that… and I think I've heard other writers say it too, that when you write you in a way write out of what you think of as your best self, the part of you that is lacking in foibles and weaknesses and egotism and vanities and so on. You’re just trying to really say something as truthful as you can out of the best that you have in you. And so somehow the physical act of doing it is the only way you have of having access to that self. I mean when you’re not physically writing you don’t have the key to that door and but when you get into—and certainly speaking for me—when I get into a state of properly concentrated attention then I do think that that is... I think of that as my best self, the self that does that. And I wish I had access to it the rest of time, but at least I can find my way to it through that.

It’s not inspiration. I think inspiration is nonsense, actually. Every so often I mean like one day in 20 or something, you will have a day when the work seems to just flow out of you and you feel lucky. I mean you feel and often surprised and you don’t quite know why it is working like that. And on days like that it’s easy to believe in a kind of inspiration, but most of the time it’s not like that. Most of the time it’s... I mean I wish there were more of those days, but most of the time it’s a lot slower and more exploratory and it’s more a process of discovering what you have to do than just simply have it arrive like a flame over your head. So I do think it’s to do with concentration, not inspiration. It’s to do with paying attention and I think the business of writing a great deal of it is the business of paying attention to your characters, to the world they live in, to the story you have to tell, but just a kind of deep attention and out of that if you pay attention properly the story will tell you what it needs.

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