#FirstDraft60 Day 17 — Inspiration vs. Perspiration (Setting a Writing Schedule)
The origin of the word inspiration is the same as the word for breathe (inspire). But what does that really mean when it comes to the creative process?
According to the Bible, one day God got a picture in His mind of a creature made in His own image. This sparked His creativity, so He constructed something that resembled that image out of mud. But it just stood there. Lifeless. Dumb. Blind. Deaf. Incapable of movement. Until God breathed life—inspired—into it.
You can have the greatest imagination and creativity in the world, but without inspiration, what you create isn’t going to go far. But without hard work—without putting in sometimes excruciating hours of labor—it doesn’t matter how much inspiration or creativity you have.
Where does inspiration come from?
In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle wrote that inspiration “far more often comes during the work than before it.”
Inspiration is not thinking about a final product. Inspiration is what leads us to write in the first place: the joy we take in imagination and creativity. When we are in the creative process and inspiration hits, everything else falls away. We lose track of time; we’re deaf to anything going on around us; nothing fills us with more joy than creating a story from our imagination.
Remember the verse in Ecclesiastes that says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart”? Well, here are our “three strands” as writers:
Imagination = Idea
Creativity = Words
Inspiration = Story
Inspiration = Appetite; Writing = Cooking
It’s all well and good to be “inspired to write a story.” However no matter how inspired you are, that story will never come into fruition unless you are willing to put in a lot of hard work.
Think of your story inspiration as your physical appetite. You can have a craving for a certain kind of food, a certain meal. Thinking about that food builds up your appetite for it. Then, once that happens, you can’t help but think of that food over and over and over until you finally get to the point at which . . .
- You distract yourself by doing something else.
- You go raid the fridge and eat everything in the house because nothing is satisfying.
- You actually do something about it and make (or go buy) that food.
Over the past couple of years, while I haven’t been actively writing, there have been many, many evenings in which I start feeling restless. I feel like there’s something I’m supposed to be doing or something I’ve forgotten to do. It’s a craving for story. So I binge watch something on Netflix. Or I read. Or I eat. Or I knit. Or I listen to an audiobook. You know what I didn’t do? Yep, you guessed right. No matter how strongly that feeling hit. No matter how many times during those couple of years that I had ideas that I thought might make good characters or plots for a new story. The one thing I didn’t do was actually sit down and do the work.
And where are those story ideas now?
It’s taken me a couple of years to heal, mentally and emotionally, from having to force myself to write a couple of books that I didn’t feel inspired by, that I didn’t want to write, and that I was writing solely for the income. Going through that ruined, for a while, my ability to not just feel inspired by a story idea, but to be motivated to actually put the work into creating that story.
Back to our analogy. Appetite (inspiration) doesn’t actually do anything constructive for you. In fact, if left untended and unaddressed for long enough, it will become a craving. And cravings, unless addressed appropriately, can lead to destructive behaviors. (Take it from a chronic overeater—I’m an expert in this!)
But if we learn how to cook. If we’re willing to go into the kitchen and spend time finding and cooking new and unique recipes, we’re letting that appetite push us to create, to make something, to have something to show for our efforts.
Now, while cooking results in a product that is fleeting, when we turn this back around to talk about writing, when we let our appetite (inspiration) spur us into creating and then writing the story, we have something tangible at the end—a completed manuscript. And, maybe someday, a published book.
And just like a meal we’ve cooked, we can share that product with others and hope it brings them the same joy it brought us . . . making all the time, sweat, tears, and energy put into creating it well worthwhile.
Put Your Inspiration into Action
If the work comes to the artist and says, “Here I am, serve me,” then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve. The amount of the artist’s talent is not what it is about. . . .
Servant is another unpopular word we have derided by denigrating servants and service. To serve should be a privilege, and it is to our shame that we tend to think of it as a burden, something to do if you’re not fit for anything better or higher. . . .
When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.
But before he can listen, paradoxically, he must work. Getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily, either in art or in prayer. . . .
Someone wrote, “The principal part of faith is patience,” and this applies, too, to art of all disciplines. We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it.
(L’Engle, pp. 23–24, emphasis mine)
We are now two weeks out from the writing portion of this sixty-day challenge. Because writing a first draft in thirty days is not a normal level of writing that any of us do on a regular basis, it’s important to start thinking now about how you’re going to schedule time to write every day.
Don’t take this lightly. If you’re really serious about this, you need to sit down with your calendar (and if you’re scheduling around a spouse/partner and/or kids, every calendar in the house) and really look at what you have coming up October 1–30.
To paraphrase Master Yoda: Guess not. Know, or know not. There is no guess.
Look at the word-count goals that you determined yesterday (overall and daily average). Think about how long it takes you to write 1,000 words. Have you ever timed yourself? If you never have and you don’t know how productive you can be in a certain amount of time, then you need to allow more time than you think you’ll need.
Don’t short-change yourself.
And if you’re working around the schedules of other people in your household, now is a great time to start talking to them about this challenge and about how, in October, you’re going to need their understanding and support as you pour most of your focus and energy into your story. Get them on board. Start planning schedules of who’s responsible for meals and other things you usually take care of now, rather than waiting until October 1 and then announcing that things must change.
Assignment 1: Determine what your writing schedule will be for each day in October. It may be the same every day, or you may have to mix it up based on prior commitments.
Assignment 2: If don’t already have a wall calendar, print one out and hang it up. Make sure the calendar is hanging somewhere everyone in the house can see it. Write your writing schedule for every day in October on the calendar.
Assignment 3: Share with us what your plan is to make sure that you’re able keep to your writing schedule throughout October.
Here’s a week-at-a-glance calendar template that I whipped up in Excel really quickly in order to set my story-work/writing schedule for the next five or six weeks, in two versions—a printable PDF version and a customizable Excel version. (Please be aware that when you click on the link for the PDF file, it should open in a new tab; the Excel link will automatically start a download of the file to your computer.)
L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980. Print.
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