Inspiration vs. Perspiration

There’s a discussion going on at Nathan Bransford’s place about what writers owe their readers, in the context of sequels and delays and missed deadlines. It’s interesting in its own right, but what struck me was the thread in the comments about inspiration and the muse and how impossible it is to write anything at all unless the planets are properly aligned, or whatever each individual writer takes as a sign that It Is Time To Be Creative Now.

I’ve run into other writers saying similar things, both online and in writing books and articles. But I’ve also seen writers saying the exact opposite, and it seems to be mostly the full time writers, the ones who pay all their bills with their keyboards, who think that the whole muse/inspiration thing is a lot of hooey and whining. As Mercedes Lackey puts it, all that’s needed is to apply seat of pants to seat of chair and do the work. According to her, writer’s block just means you don’t feel like doing the work, but you get a lot more sympathy and petting if you say you’re blocked than if you say you don’t feel like working.

Me, I’m kind of in the middle. For me, there are times when the words just flow (my fondest writing memory at this point is last October, when I cranked out 40K words of my WIP in two weeks) and there are times when I have to hunt every word down with a flashlight and pliers. I have some techniques I can use to get past a blockage, but they all take focus and concentration, and there are times when I can’t muster either one.

I’m bipolar, which I’ve mentioned before, and my moods (which affect such things as ambition and energy level) are subject to the whims of my wildly veering brain chemistry. When I’m in a low, I can’t scrape together enough ambition or energy to do much of anything at all. When I’m sort of in the middle I’m just like everyone else, and the writing is usually work but I can do it if I decide to, including working through a block.

When I’m in a high, well, it depends what kind. The best kind is what I think of as a productive high — lots of energy and ambition, the confidence to believe I can do anything at all [this is the part known as “mania,” which is where the “manic” part of manic-depressive comes from, and no, it doesn’t necessarily lead one to thoughts of taking over the world 😉 ] and I do some of my best work, no matter what kind of work I’m doing, when I’m in this chunk of my cycle. Some highs are less productive, though, and if I’m irritable (pissed at the world, snappish, no patience of any kind) or if thoughts are racing around in my head so furiously I can’t grab on to any of them, work is pretty much out the window.

[BTW, I have no problem talking about any of this. If anyone is thinking about writing a bipolar character, or is just curious, feel free to post here or e-mail me and I’ll be happy to answer questions.]

Of course, the times I enjoy writing most is when I’m on a productive high. Story ideas pour out, and I have enough focus to concentrate on a single story and make significant progress with it. Even when I’m in the mid-range, though, I can usually manage. I might have to kick my butt to get it into gear, and put in some Seat Of Pants In Seat Of Chair time to work through whatever problems might crop up, but I can do it, and if I don’t it’s my own fault.

Recognizing where I am can be a problem, though. It’s a forest-and-trees thing, where the person experiencing an episode is too close to the issue, and possibly too judgement-impaired, to be able to spot what’s going on. I don’t know how often it’s suddenly hit me that, hey, I’ve been depressed for a while now. Or, wow, irritable high! Sorry, everyone! (The recognition usually hits after the fact, unfortunately, when I’ve shifted back a bit and my judgement is better.) So there are times when I’m trying to make the words come and they just won’t, I can’t focus enough to work on a story because there are six or ten other ideas all shouting at me from behind my eyeballs, and trying to chase them down is just pointless and frustrating. I’d rather do that, though, than not try to work when I could if I only would try, you know? Although I’m not successful at making that happen a hundred percent of the time, either. :/

That’s me. It’s hardly ever boring [wry smile] but I deal with it as best I can, and occasionally I crank out a story I think is pretty good.

How about you? Where does your opinion fall on the inspiration-vs.-perspiration scale, and what do you do about block?


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Angela Benedetti lives in Seattle with her husband and a few thousand books. She loves romance for the happy endings, for the affirmation that everyone who's willing to fight for love deserves to get it and be happy with someone. She's best known for her Sentinel series of novels, the most recent of which is Captive Magic.