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  • Writer's pictureAnders Åslund

Inspiration and other pointless things

Inspiration is like having a friend you’re not really sure is your friend. Sometimes, they don’t return your DMs, sometimes they gush over you. Sometimes they tell you to go f*ck yourself. Don’t rely on that one friend. There are others. Here I’ll explain in more detail what the hell I’m talking about.

This might shock you, but I’m not the first to write about the dangers of thinking inspiration is worth a damn. There are many, many others who have also figured out that writing is about 20 percent art and 80 percent work. At times, that ratio will be different. On a really good day, you might actually delude yourself into thinking that all the work you put in is art, and that’s fantastic. At other times, it’s 99,9 percent work, and it feels like you should just quit.

Portrait of the actor Jesse Eisenberg.
Mark Eisenberg. Jesse Zuckerberg?

Like friends, inspiration comes in a range of models, from the weird dude who always says the most awkward things at parties but stil gets invited somehow (think Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” incidentally one of the very best movies of the last 22 years,) to the resplendent alpha, the leader of the pack, the indefatigable superhuman who knows just what to say and do in any given situation but might turn bad.

Never wait for inspiration

Like so many others, I used to wait for inspiration to strike before writing. Later I learned this neat trick: make the moment that you sit down in front of your work be the inspiration, and the rest will follow. Ever since (a long time ago now) I never wait for inspiration.

That doesn’t mean I have deprived myself of that great feeling that only creatives know: I feel the need… the need for [insert chosen art form here].

I get it from books, movies, music, walking past someone on the street, a really nice waterfall in a Norwegian fjord, a perfect strawberry – well, pretty much anything. Books and movies are my most common sources, which won’t surprise any fellow writer.

How to use inspiration properly

What I’ve come to realize about the moment when inspiration strikes is this: it’s not useless, but very nearly useless. Most of the time, it strikes when you’re doing something else, obviously: watching a movie or reading a book. Tearing yourself away to go do some writing immediately may have detrimental effects on your social life. Also, that feeling of inspiration can’t really help you in that moment. It will only frustrate you, or turn you into a copycat. You have to use it differently. Here’s how: wait a while. Retain the feeling, memorize it so that you can go back to it. And use it to spitball ideas.

Inspiration, ideas, and motivation

Movie poster for "Wonder Boys": Michael Douglas in close-up peering over his glasses, knowing full well he's too charming to pass up.
Just look at him! Seriously, go watch it. Now.

There’s a movie that never fails to instill inspiration in me, no matter how many times I watch it. If you’re a writer and you haven’t seen Wonder Boys (2000), you should seriously consider doing it right now. Just drop whatever you’re doing and watch it. Every time I see it, I feel like I have to write, immediately. Time was, I would have paused it and scampered to the computer and sit there, frustrated that the lines aren’t as forthcoming as they should. I was inspired, why am I not writing?!

Because you need time. Inspiration is not the driving force behind your writing. It’s the starting point of your idea process. To sit down and write because you feel inspired is like getting an idea and starting to write without even trying to flesh it out. All ideas need time to gestate and become something else: motivators. You should always strive to let your ideas simmer before you act on them, or else you’ll find yourself running dry further on, because you’re stuck in the notion that you need inspiration to write. You don’t. You need motivation to write.

Never run out of juice

The good thing about this is, when you allow inspiration to turn into ideas that turn into motivation, you will never run out of the energy two write.

Well, that was a lie. I have moments when I just can’t write. But I’ve become so good at identifying those moments that I rarely even try. I do something else for a bit, and maybe, next time I sit down, things start to come together in my head.

Not acting on inspiration may turn you into a more productive writer. One that recognizes that the actual writing is work, not playtime, and maturing ideas and editing is the art. That’s what writing is to me, anyway.

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