This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.
― Steven Pressfield
Inspiration is the backbone of our writing career. But many new writers misunderstand what it is and how to use it. Even some of us that have been writing for years can use a reminder about how best to court our muse.
Here are the ways we fail inspiration and how we can make up for our transgressions and become the creative souls we were meant to be.
You only write when inspired
Inspiration arrives when it arrives. There’s no forcing it. But to say you write only when it comes is to misunderstand the nature of this mysterious and magical illumination.
Write often. Don’t wait to put words on the page. Inspiration comes to those who are prepared and one of the ways to be prepared is to master your craft. Not everything you write will be inspired, but as you get better, the likelihood of the muse gifting you becomes greater.
In wanting to master your craft inspiration can show up, but being competitive blocks it. This is so because inspiration is a transcendent aspect of experience ignited by transcendent behavior. In mastering our craft, our confidence and self-esteem grow. They are both facilitated by inspiration and help evoke it.
You don’t give it the opportunity to show up
As mentioned above, waiting for inspiration to strike leads to a hit or miss situation. But we get more hits of inspiration when we take an active role in creating the conditions that allow us to be present and in a receptive state. The problem is we don’t spend much time in such a state in our busy world.
I’ve written about this receptive state in Find Your Writer's AHA!: Discover the Book You Were Meant to Write. To encourage this state, do things to help you let go of the thinking mind like meditation, spending time in nature or simply stare out a window and watch without thought. It takes practice, but this is how to prepare yourself for the arrival of inspiration.
Being prepared by mastering your craft is another way to invite inspiration. Doing the work can lead to inspired ideas. As Steve Pressfield said in the quote above, the muse takes note of our dedication.
You don’t act on it
Inspiration needs action. Ideas come to us more often than we may realize. Only we’re not paying attention or if we notice, we put the idea on the back burner.
The process of inspiration is about expression. Some would say it’s about the Divine expressing through us. If we stilt that process, life literally become uninspired. We close down and shut off our channel to our muse. The important thing to remember is that we can always open it again.
You don’t let it lead
You can either work from inspiration or through your own effort. When you get inspired by an idea let the inspiration lead your work. Often what happens though is you get the idea and then let the rational mind take over.
Studies show what is made through effort can be technically sound but it is not creative like what is made in an inspired state. You know the difference by the flow. When the words come fast and you don’t stop, it’s more creative. When you stop and ponder over the words, you’ve moved down into effort and the work is less creative. This is why it’s best to write in flow first and then edit on the second round.
You don’t use it to set goals
Take a look at these two goals:
I will complete four essays this month.
I will inspire myself and others with my words this month through four essays.
What goal would be more fun? Which one do you want to achieve? The more inspired the goal the more likely you’ll reach it and continue to make and meet inspired goals in the future.
You don’t let yourself be inspired by others
Some new writers refuse to read the work of others for fear they will be influenced and not produce original work. The only thing that happens when you don’t read the work of others is you keep yourself small. You can be inspired in other ways, but reading the works of truly inspired individuals can help you more than you realize.
At first you may emulate their work, but that’s just an early stage of learning. You won’t keep doing it. Eventually you’ll discover the work that inspired you to sameness starts to work its magic and trigger your own unique creativity. Truly, unless you’re working from effort, the work of the inspired can only turn into more inspired work.
Though I was inspired to write about inspiration, reading about it in the article titled “Why Inspiration Matters” by Scott Barry Kaufman in the Harvard Business Review confirmed some of my ideas and helped me add others. I hope you’ll give it a read. I think you’ll find it helpful.
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The advice you hear most about how to improve your writing is to read and write. I have given that advice myself. It’s where every writer needs to start. But in order to truly improve, you need to have the intention to do so and you need to do it on a regular basis.
Here are a few ways to use reading and writing intentionally for the improvement of your craft.
Work with a mentor or editor
The back and forth of working with someone who is a few steps ahead of you or better yet, a professional editor is the apprenticeship of the writer’s craft.
I learned more about writing through writing papers in college and getting feedback, having my editor husband go over my work and getting feedback and in poetry workshops than I would have just reading and writing on my own.
If you’re a pro and getting your work out there, you’ll have the opportunity to do this often. Working with a mentor periodically can help keep your skills sharp.
Give yourself writing assignments out of your comfort zone
If you’re used to writing short essays, try your hand at long ones. If you’re used to writing fiction, write a well-researched, long nonfiction piece. Expand your repertoire and you’ll expand your abilities. We all have preferences in what we write, but stepping outside those now and then gives us new skills and new ways of looking at the world.
Study the work of writers you admire
This is beyond just reading their work. Study it. Write in the margins. Pick it apart. Understand the structure. Join a reading group that does critical reading. Take a class. Get inside a piece of writing and learn how and why it works. And bring what you learn to your own writing. In fact, do so immediately so you can practice what you just learned.
Consistency takes discipline
If you want to be a professional writer, it takes practice. Professional athletes practice often. Professional musicians and artists do, too. They also look for ways to improve on what they do.
There are thousands of people out there who are writers. How do you stand out? You take on the mindset of a pro, do the work, improve, get it out there and you do it consistently.
It’s not always easy. It takes time to build up discipline. But remember your passion for the work, for the written word. That’s what discipline is about. It’s about valuing what you do and binding yourself to it. You will grow into a pro as you do this. And we need more pros so the industry prospers.
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The dream: NY Times bestselling author with 5 books in print making a good living as a writer.
The reality: Two unpublished books, one you can’t seem to finish and three rejections. It’s as though you gave up before you even began. It’s easy to do when you perceive the distance between where you are and where you want to be as an enormous chasm.
The chasm isn’t as wide as you think and while we’re at it, stop thinking about it as a gap at all. It’s just the space between two things and we can bridge that space as we move towards our dream. The key is to not quit.
We’ve all been told you just need to do xyz to get to where you want to go. But formulas don’t usually work because one-size-fits-all solutions don’t. We can take what others have done and tweak their formula to make it our own. Better yet is to look within for the steps that will shorten the distance between now and the dream life. Here’s how…
Stay out of overwhelm
First, stop seeing your dream as impossibly far away. It’s a given that as you take steps towards it, you will get closer. But as you take those steps you begin to change and gain confidence. Soon those small steps become big steps and once in a while you’ll leap. What seemed to be 10 years away gets cut to five or less.
Begin with baby steps
Don’t think of your dream as an overwhelming goal you may never reach. Dreams can inspire you to move forward. They are not to be lived in, which is daydreaming. They are to be lived from. Use them to inspire actions that you can take from where you are now.
Also note dreams are not goals. Goals help you reach your dream and are set based on where you are. They need to feel doable now. Break down your vision into goals and then break each goal down into doable steps. That’s how you bridge the gap.
It’s a journey not a gap, and it’s necessary
I know I keep saying this in one form or another, but it’s important. The space between where you are now and where you want to be is the journey you NEED to take in order to become the person who is living the dream.
You may have heard about people who win the lottery. They spend it all within a year then end up right back where they started. This is because they didn’t have the space to grow into the person who could handle large sums of money. We need that space to become who we want to be. Don’t lament the time it takes to get where you want to go. Without it you can’t become the person you need to be to live the dream.
Don’t listen to the past
The past will haunt you and tell you: Things will always be this way. You haven’t changed before. What makes you think you will change now?
Don’t listen. Find proof that you have grown and changed. See how you’re not the same person you were 10 years ago. Maybe you haven’t moved as much as you like, but you’re still growing into the life you want.
And if you’re not moving towards your dream, take a breath and forgive yourself. We all get sidetracked sometimes. Remember, those sidetracks still contribute to our growth. When you become aware you’ve started down the wrong path, just come back to your dream and refocus. This is why people hire coaches. It helps them stay on track.
Today’s actions are the stepping stones to your dream. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Those musicians and artists who suddenly show up on the scene as a huge success started out just like you. They had a dream and didn’t know how they would make it real, but they kept moving towards it. Often they spent 10 years or more getting better at their art and finding ways to get their work out there. And we know them and their work now because they never gave up.
Determine what success means to you, do what you love and keep dreaming. When you live in the moment and enjoy every step, you realize the journey itself is your purpose. The dream isn’t the destination. It appears in your heart to help you unfold into an ever greater expression of life itself.
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