Is it possible to force inspiration?
Not really, but a famous science fiction author just gave some advice about being in the right place at the right time to receive it.
For anyone who writes for a living or who aspires to that calling, the advice will seem all-too-familiar. To those who are a little unsure about choosing writing as a profession or are just starting out, it's pure gold as far as how the process works.
That's right--writing is a process. I've always thought it felt like chiseling a statue, and you have to work hard to make it all turn into something genuinely useful.
Sir Philip Pullman is a famous author who wrote the trilogy His Dark Materials. Recently, another author asked a question on Twitter about how to find inspiration.
Forget about inspiration and get into the habit of writing every day. Habit has written far more books than inspiration has. If you want the Muse to visit you, she needs to know where you are: so stay at your desk.-- Philip Pullman (@PhilipPullman) January 21, 2019
To parse that out a bit, the first takeaway is that writing is a habit. For anyone who writes on a daily basis, and is paid to write, you know you can't wait for inspiration. You have to pick up the hammer and start using it, and in the process you often find inspiration.
Yet, there's an even deeper truth in the second part of his tweet.
And, it applies to more than just writing.
For anyone running a business, creating a new product, running a marketing team--it's important to know that inspiration will not coming flowing down from the clouds if you are sleeping in and playing Xbox games. It won't come if you only pull out a laptop once or twice a day. There are times, after writing this column for the last seven years, when I simply start writing and see where an idea takes me. There are other times when writing becomes more of a process--a few notes here, a little research over there.
Being in a place where inspiration hits is quite profound, actually. This is one reason entrepreneurs often talk about how many times they go to a business lunch, why they get up so early in the morning, why they are tireless about a new product they are selling. Ideas are like fireflies that float around, but to capture them, you have to work hard. And, as any actual entrepreneur knows, an idea is the easy part. Executing the idea is much harder.
In working with young writers at a college and mentoring them, I know the ones who work the hardest will be most successful. By far. The ones who say they are waiting for the right idea, or the right frame of mind, or the right Google search to inspire them will be forever stuck. One new writer I know decided to read dozens of similar articles to the one she was assigned to write. To me, that's professional writing.
The idea that you don't have to work hard or spend the time researching a topic or interview sources to discover the best insights would not apply to any other field. Imagine working in construction and telling your boss you are waiting to be inspired enough to go pound some nails. Or a surgeon who only performs a procedure when the mood is right. Writing professionally is not about inspiration. It's about hammering out your ideas and crafting something out of thin air that inspires, entertain, and teaches.
Philip Pullman is right. When the muse visits, be at your desk.