On Waiting for Inspiration

Once, I used to think of inspiration as a fleeting mistress. It was a cliched and enjoyable notion. Oh, nope, Inspiration’s not here, can’t write today! I can’t be expected to write without being inspired!

Some people still stick to this. Other writers will say to write every day, regardless of what it is. Like a blog post, perhaps. So now you know my motivations.

Now, I think of Inspiration in a different way. More like a baby, growing inside a mother, Inspiration needs time to mature. I can feel the churning away of my mind, collating all the data that I’ve taken in over the last few weeks and months, trying to find a shape in the form of a story.

What’s great is that I don’t panic about it anymore. Because I know it’s always there, waiting. It’s like being very aware of your body clock, knowing when your brain is going to click into place and make you pick up a pen.


I like it.

The basis of this has always been to expose yourself to new experiences. I recently went on a trip to San Francisco, one of my favourite cities, home to some of my favourite people. And I had a fantastic time. But I was expecting a new novel idea to just appear out of thin air. The reason it didn’t? I’ve been to San Francisco three times now. It’s not new. It’s brilliant, but it’s not sparking any synapses. That doesn’t mean I didn’t glean a few settings for stories, or nuggets of information from my thoughtful friends. But it’s the new experiences that make Inspiration get her act together.


This is SF to me

Similarly, the oldest writing adage still rings true: Write what you know. So, whilst I was waiting for Inspiration to work herself out, I started listing all the things I know. The things I see that other people don’t, the understanding of situations that other people haven’t been in. What makes my view different and what makes it true? I analysed my upbringing, my cultural background, my job, the people I see, the things I find interesting.


And as I allowed my mind to explore these options, a new story started coming into view. So we’ve decided Inspiration isn’t so much a fickle mistress as she is a very picky dinner guest. Provide her with varied nourishment, a steak she can truly stick her teeth into, and she’ll pay the bill. Feed her the same rabbit food of your every day life, and she’s likely to dine elsewhere.


I like it.

So what next? Well, in my personal system, I allow this idea to slowly come to it’s own conclusions. I don’t talk about it with other people. The only thing I’ll say is that I have an idea. Discussing it is like talking about a business deal that might yet fall through. Treat Inspiration with caution, and your own ideas as frail and delicate. A character walking through your subconscious may not stand up to your internal critic just yet. Let them grow of their own accord, let their environment colour itself in, let a storyline emerge, defined by character.

This is my personal response to Inspiration. She’ll turn up when she’s needed. And whilst she’s hiding out, I’ll be off having adventures. She can join me when she’s ready.


2 thoughts on “On Waiting for Inspiration”

  1. Everyone likes to dish writing advice (myself included), but, in the end, you have to find a personal method that works for you.

    Except that sounds like I just gave advice. Advice I suggested you not follow. Which means you have to follow my advice, which means you can’t. Which means…


    This reminds me of that phrase… what is it? Catch something? Catch twent…

    Oh yeah, I remember, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

    1. I often tell my students the same thing, but I actually find hearing about others’ processes useful. I’ve never read a Stephen King story, but reading On Writing and finding how he works really helped me streamline my own process.

      Also, personal methods seem to be the number one thing writers love to talk about. And just like certain ‘rules’ aren’t applicable to every story or every writer (‘write what you know’ ‘write every day’ ‘show don’t tell’) we’re still all talking about them, so there must be something there.

      Maybe it’s just that when we’re not writing, talking about it makes us feel like we’re working.

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