When Inspiration Isn’t the Problem: The Burden of Sitting Yourself Down and Writing

Inspiration has never been a problem for me.

Inspiration isn’t my issue. Inspiration, if you want to get technical, really only pertains to something that sparks the want to do something creative; it is the mental stimulant, what gets your thought process going, what drives your desire to create.
Inspiration isn’t my problem.

Production is.

There are always things calling me to write: a snippet of a conversation I’ve overheard (and trust me, working in a high school? I hear some fantastic non-sequitirs), an image in a magazine, a line in a song. Hell, when I was in college, I wrote an entire 5,000 word short story that snowballed from my love of the phrase “Flow, Morpheus, slow, down the river of night’s dreaming,” a line from a song in the freakin’ Rocky Horror Picture Show. Finding things — words, images, dialogue — that make me want to write is not problematic.

Writing is. Getting the words down on the page is.

It’s not getting the idea in my head, it’s getting my ass in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard and the words on the paper.

So, I guess the real question isn’t, what drives me to want to create, it’s what finally sits me down and gets me to produce?

Simple answer? Two things: having a deadline, and the fear of semi-public humiliation.
I know, I should be a motivational speaker, right? I just named two of the biggest killjoys of writing — having to adhere to a schedule, and having people judge you.
Except that’s not how I look at it.

See, I often feel absolutely paralyzed with the absolute freedom I have when it comes to creating. I love the intellectual freedom to create, and I will defend to the death my right to a creative space that speaks to me on a personal level; I believe that no one should censor what I able to write about, in what manner or medium I am able to express my thoughts, and I believe wholeheartedly that my stories deserve to be heard — and so do yours. I absolutely love that I have the freedom to create.

And I love that I can exercise that freedom at my leisure; why, I could pick up pen and paper tonight and pen the Great American Novel. Or tomorrow night; tonight’s no good, I have a doctor’s appointment, and then I have to go grocery shopping. Or, actually, you know, Friday would be better, I don’t have to get up early on Saturday, so I can spend the night writing. But you know, when I think about it…

…Oh, crap.

Having no concrete reason to sit down and write tonight? Means I’ll almost certainly find reasons to not sit down and write tonight. I need a timeline; I need to know that I have this much time to get this much done, and no, I can’t just wait until Friday night, because then I will be 5,000 words behind and won’t that just suck? I need to feel like there is something at stake, and I need to feel like I’m being held accountable.

Which leads me to “semi-public humiliation.”

I do not let people read my writing until I am damn ready for them to. This is an unequivocal point; I don’t care if it’s a NaNo novel, or a research paper, or a blog entry, or a goddamn Tweet. It doesn’t have to be polished to perfection, but I have to be emotionally and mentally ready to have you look at it and critique it. That is not something that changes for NaNo, so when I say “semi-public humiliation,” I don’t mean having someone tear into your NaNo novel as a means of motivating yourself. Dear God. My NaNo novels are crap; I know that. First drafts, especially first drafts written under such a deadline, usually are. I’m not giving people permission to shame my writing, and I’m not suggesting that anyone else put themselves in that position either.

What I do mean is, I force myself to get involved.

You know, in the NaNo “community.”

Go to write-ins. Join a NaNoWriMo vlogging group. I do things to get my presence out there, to announce to a community of people outside my group of immediate friends and family who all know what I am going through, who are all fighting the same battle, and saying, “look at me! I can do this!”

And I damn well better, because now, people are watching.

You tell your friends and family that you’re “writing a novel,” and you can, ostensibly, claim to be writing a novel for a near indefinite period of time. Months. Years. Some authors work on their opuses for decades; hell, I can tell people I’m working on a novel for ten years, it’s just taking me a lot of time to “research.” Unless your friends and family are a group of particularly prodigious authors themselves, they’ll likely buy it, or at least be too polite to vocalize their doubts. Who can say how long it takes to write a novel? The creative process is a mysterious thing.

If you tell a group of NaNoers, “hey I’m doing NaNoWriMo,” they know exactly what that entails — what your daily word count should be, the types of obstacles that can stall you out the frustrations of pantsing, the hassles of planning — and they are not going to let you off the hook. If you’re involved in a group that meets face-to-face, or that collaborates on NaNo-related projects, you will watch them crawl their way to the finish lines, and you will be on your hands and knees right beside them.

Because in the face of that level of perseverance, it is utterly humiliating to give up.
I will never be a motivational speaker; these are probably not inspiring word to most of you out there, a rallying cry in praise of deadlines and of setting yourself up for humiliation. But for many (not all, and perhaps not even most, but for many) of us doing NaNo, inspiration is not the problem — if we didn’t have a story to tell, we wouldn’t be here.

It’s sitting down and writing the damn thing.

So let whatever it is that inspires you ignite that spark in your brain to get you thinking.
And maybe, maybe let this be that friendly little fire under your ass to get you writing.