Written by A Guest Author

The Problem With Inspiration (And What to Do About It)

By Karen Hanson Stuyck                                                                                      

Every writer knows that exhilarating moment when inspiration hits. Aha! Eureka! All those unconnected thoughts at last are woven together into a cogent—quite possibly brilliant—narrative. You dash to your computer or the closest piece of paper to capture the flood of words. After so many unsuccessful attempts, the story seems to write itself.

The only problem with inspiration is having to wait for it to appear. Sometimes, unfortunately, waiting for a very long time.

For me writing fiction was very different from the writing I was used to doing as a newspaper reporter and as a public relations writer. In fiction I was faced with a blank page, not a notepad crammed with facts and quotes I could put in my story. Oh, maybe I had a few ideas jotted down, a possible character or plot. But I required inspiration to breathe life into my ideas, to put the pieces together to create an intriguing story. In nonfiction my main problem was organizing the information I had and then presenting it in a cohesive and readable fashion. No inspiration was required.

When I started writing fiction—short stories at first, then novels—I waited impatiently for my story’s inspiration to show itself. There were a few ways I could sometimes coax it to appear. First I would write out all the story tidbits, the random characters, the bit of dialogue or possible plot points. Then I would walk away and do something else, something that required absolutely no thought. Sometimes, if I was lucky, inspiration snuck up on me during these mindless activities: taking a shower, washing dishes, chopping up onions. Aha! Eureka! I’d grab a towel or wipe the onions  off my hands, then grab the nearest pen and piece of paper. When inspiration struck I wanted to remember all the words.

But then I had a baby. Suddenly those chunks of uninterrupted time I’d used for writing stories no longer existed. My adorable baby was now in charge of my time. I realized quite quickly that I was not able to write coherent sentences when he was awake.

The obvious solution was to write when he was asleep. I was too wiped out to write when he went to sleep at night, but I was wide awake when he took his nice, long two-hour nap after lunch.

The two hours became my writing time. I learned that nap time—my daily window of opportunity—would end whether or not I had written a single word. No inspiration for that story? Too bad. There was always tomorrow.

To my surprise—and let’s not be modest here, my pride in myself—I soon became a disciplined fiction writer. No more waiting for inspiration. I had to use the two hours that I had. If the pieces of my story had not gelled together, I used the time to brainstorm more notes. If the words had come effortlessly the previous day, but not today, I edited yesterday’s work and, more often than not, added at least a few new paragraphs or pages. Every writing session I did something, and most of the time I managed to write at least a little.

Some days I wrote page after page and was frustrated when my son’s whimpering announced that writing time was over. Sometimes I only managed a single page filled with awkward sentences I probably would throw away the next day. It didn’t make any difference–I had tried. And let me be clear, I still welcomed inspiration whenever it appeared—for me, usually in the shower. I still wrote out all the snippets of ideas I had and then set them aside, awaiting the flash of inspiration that would weave them together.

But what I did NOT do was set my writing aside while I waited passively for inspiration. Instead I kept on writing, day after day, sometimes on another project. I don’t know if inspiration came more quickly than before, but I do know that I realized inspiration was not necessary for me to write my story or novel. It was certainly welcome, but it was not required.

Years later, when I was under a publisher’s contract to produce the third book in my mystery series by a date which was several months less than I usually needed to write a book, I knew I could do it. From my nap time writing, I had developed a certainty that I could sit down and write it. And that’s what I did. On time.

Yeah, you say, I don’t have a napping baby or any obvious daily chunks of uninterrupted time to write. Okay, but I think if you look carefully you can find the time.

Some writers who spend their work week at another full-time job do their writing on the weekends. That is their scheduled writing time. Other writers I know wait until their families are asleep to do their own writing. That might mean delaying their bedtime until 1 or 2 a.m., but they do it, night after night. I’ve read about other writers who set their alarm clocks for a couple of hours earlier than they needed to get up. Then they would write until it was time to get ready for work.

The point is that you can find a time, even if it is a few hours a week, when you can write. And then you have to do it, writing day after day, week after week. Because you are a serious writer, and that’s what serious writers do.


Bio: Karen Hanson Stuyck is the author of eight mystery novels: A Deadly Courtship, Death by Dumpster, Do You Remember Me Now?, A Novel Way to Die, Fit to Die, Cry for Help, Held Accountable, Lethal Lessons. Her short stories appeared in Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and Woman’s World. Her website is karenstuyck.com.

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