December 28, 2014

Why you should write even when you feel uninspired

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I listened to a really lovely podcast by Neil Gaiman today. I’d never really read much of his stuff before but after looking back through at this amazing career and everything he has achieved I’ve become a little bit obsessed with him and his view on writing. (I go through spells of being obsessed with people; it’s normal I promise). He’s written countless novels, short fiction and basically has garnered a bit of a cult following – so he must be doing something right.

Whilst listening to his podcast (I’ve put it below), he mentioned something in particular really stuck with me in particular as it rang a very familiar bell to how I feel when I write things. He spoke about how you shouldn’t wait to be “inspired” every time you write:

He said:

“If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.” … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.”

So here’s the thing: I only EVER touch this blog or write a few more words of my book when I am feeling inspired. I’m known to put things off because I don’t feel inspired enough, if I don’t have that gut belly feeling then I can’t commit. I never ever ‘just write’, for no reason. It’s always because of something I’ve read that day, or felt, or something that’s happened to me, or something that got me thinking on tube. I always come here and write write write when (and only when) I feel inspired. Sometimes I’ll go for weeks without writing on here because nothing really touches or affects me specifically – I’ll feel like empty and things will just roll off my back, not really making me angry, happy or sad: just meh.

Once I got so “inspired” by an idea I was writing on a train I wrote 50 pages without coming up for air. I also missed my stop and ended up having to pay a fortune to get back onto the right train and figure out my route from the middle of nowhere. “Inspiration” really sucked that day. Although I got a lot done in a short space of time it really caught me off-guard. I haven’t had a lightbulb moment since then and it’s made me realise that I can’t just wait and wait to be randomly inspired – I have to inspire myself. I have to give some ideas a go at more “inconvenient” times.

An interview with Jessie Burton in the Sunday Times this weekend resonated with me too. She was interviewed by Fleur Britten on her success with The Miniaturist this year which has scooped up so many awards I’m sure she is struggling to keep track of them all. On writing, she says “I can do it anywhere. A grab-it-while-you-can sort of thing.” She is said to finished her book on tubes, in parks, in other people’s offices. In gmail, on her iPhone notes. Anywhere.

So what about this perfect setting of a typewriter surrounded by flowers on a warm summer’s evening? It’s bullshit.

“People want the fairy tale, but the fairy tale is a woman sitting at her desk, staring at a blank screen.” – Jessie Burton

Neil says you can’t wait for these lightbulb moments or feeling like you’ve got the right setting or the right thoughts. If you want to write a novel or you want to practise your writing regularly, you have to put word after word and get ideas down. He says that first drafts don’t matter so I’ve started not being afraid of what I put down in my notebooks, so that the barrier of ‘that’s a shit idea’ is broken down, because if it’s in a notebook it doesn’t count – until it makes it onto the computer it’s not “real” – it’s just practice.

To any aspiring writers, or anyone thinking about their book, have a listen of this short podcast from Neil, he gives some nice little tips on how to ease yourself in, but to be hard on yourself at the same time. As I’m finding with my book ideas – they don’t just crop up out of thin air, you have to keep bashing the keyboard even when you are in the grumpiest, most “meh” moods. Words need to appear. You need something to edit.

Image source: sunshowersandrainshine.com

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