Inspirational Thought: 8 Ideas To Plumb For Creative Writing

Posted at 01:17am on 18th February 2009

“I write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”

This is said to originate with the novelist Peter de Vries, but I think it may be George Bernard Shaw.

“Writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

A variation of Thomas Edison’s observation on genius.

I was asked, recently, to state a couple of my favourite quotations, and these were the two I chose. I have mentioned them before, but not, I think, in any depth. So today I’m going to rectify that. And although what I have to say is for writers, I believe it will speak into any situation we find ourselves in, during these difficult times. I’ve slightly changed the order of the first of the quotations above.

  1. When I’m inspired: I began writing as a child: comic strips, plays which my cousins and I acted out for our parents, and stories. When I wasn’t writing I was doing what my mother, disparagingly, called ‘day-dreaming’. All her attempts to get me to ‘snap out of it’ failed. And I can only conclude that the inner urge, the compulsion, to picture events and ideas in my imagination, and have them flow down my arm, via my pencil, and thus onto paper, is what we writers would call a Muse, or an Inspiration.
  1. I write: Marriage and motherhood spooled my creativity in a different sphere, and I found great delight in homemaking, soft-furnishing, craft, cooking, entertaining, dressmaking for myself and my children, and innovative ways of playing with them and teaching them. During this time the urge to write never left me. But it became buried beneath a tide of guilt, borne out of conditioning: the sort of whispered messages in my mind that told me to ‘snap out of it’ because I had more important priorities. I now know that I should have listened to that other message that says that those who use the talents that have been given to them will increase them; and those who bury their talents will lose them. Read the story for yourself in Matthew Chapter 25 verses 14-30. And don’t allow your talent to become submerged!
  1. and . . . at 9 o’clock every morning : Discipline and habit are often thought to be anathema to creativity. But, to my knowledge, all successful authors view the process of writing as a job. They may not literally start their working day at nine in the morning but, generally speaking, they have a time-table and stick to it. Paradoxically, discipline sets you free. Just as the discipline of learning to ride a bike or drive a car becomes a process of habit which, in turn, sets you free to explore hitherto unknown territories, so the discipline and habit of writing liberates a hidden terrain of unexplored creativity.
  1. I make sure I’m inspired: An empty page (or screen) is anathema to a writer’s muse. I wrote, on New Year’s Eve, about my own experience, and the occasional need to pour yourself out in a burst of writing that is free and unfettered by any of the rules of grammar or syntax; that adheres to no particular style, or format; and is untarnished by technique. From this deep well of the subconscious a torrent of passion, spirituality, belief and ideas will spring forth in random abandon. You may wonder what use it will serve. But from it, I promise, a stream of creativity will emerge which, with time, and effort on your part, will organise itself into a meaningful narrative. A writer friend told me recently how my New Year blog had inspired her to begin a new project. As the writer Frank Tibolt has said: “We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action.”
  1. 1% inspiration: Having the inspiration, or talent, to write is the least part of the equation. I have seen big talents wasted. Thrown away because it all came too easy. And I have seen a small flair fanned into flame through sheer will and dedication. Remember the hare and the tortoise. Resolve to run to win the race.
  1. 90% perspiration: This is where technique and craftsmanship come in. Having a talent is not sufficient, in itself, to bring success. Reading blogs like this one, books on the subject of writing, joining a local writers circle, and a national organisation are all elements of the hard work involved in the process of writing. Details of local writers’ groups may be found at the library, or online. Many larger societies and associations hold conferences periodically throughout the year. Attending such events will not only help to hone your craft, but will bring you into contact with other writers, and give you the know-how and the confidence to slog away at the other perspiration-producing processes.
  1. 95% perspiration: And they are - editing and revising. These are too complex to be dealt with within the confines of this article. But both are crucial to success. Pausing to allow your work to marinade – putting it away in a drawer for a day or two – will help you to see errors you’ve not noticed before. Reading aloud is a tried and tested technique to spot a clumsy sentence, an ill-formed argument, or undeveloped theme. Polish and hone; hone and polish. They may be left-brain activities but they are the critical face of creativity.
  1. 99% perspiration: If the success you seek eludes you, that’s where the final push comes in. Weep a while. Then lay aside your failure. Put it down to experience. And remember that, in the words of Mary Anne Radmacher, writer and artist: “Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow.”

Good luck! And if you can add to this, I’d love to hear from you.

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