Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.
~ Stephen King
King, a contemporary of mine, was born and raised in Maine in 1947, and is an acclaimed American author of horror, fantasy, science fiction, as well as supernatural fiction and suspense. He began his writing career in high school with short stories that he actually sold to his friends for profit! Too often, I lament, along with many of my fellow Indie authors, about the difficulty of marketing our books. It seems that young Stephen King had that all figured out – even before the advent of the Internet and social media!
Like many authors, King took other jobs to pay the bills until his books began to take off. It is clear that Stephen King had a well-developed work ethic. The tone of this quote belies his impatience with writers that he tags as amateurs. He says that these amateurs will just sit around waiting for an inspiration before they write anything. I smiled as I read that statement.
On the one hand, King has a legitimate point. The professional gets up every day and just writes. He or she will plug away at their book or article, etc. until they get it finished. They know full well that they may receive an inspiring visit from the Muse – or not. Regardless, they have a job to do and they must complete it to the best of their ability in a timely fashion. After all, publishers have their deadlines too! So there’s just no time to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike like a lightning bolt. Inspiration ‘on demand’ would be nice, wouldn’t it!
Having said that, I recall what I went through when, night after night, I sat down before my computer to write my first novel. I was full of fear because I knew that I didn’t know what I was doing. Because I wanted to do this more than I wanted to run away, I kept plunking away at my keyboard. One paragraph later, I was stuck. Writer’s block? No, the fear overwhelmed me and choked off the flow of ideas. I was a smoker then, so I left my office, grabbed a diet coke, my smokes, and headed out to the garage where I’d sit on the steps going down to the garage floor and light up. As I inhaled the smoke deep into my lungs, I felt a calm return. A couple more drags on the cigarette and a sip of diet cola allowed some ideas to form.
This scenario repeated itself a few times each evening when I sat down to write. The first few chapters of that first book were tough going. I didn’t know it then, but it would be seven years of re-writes before the novel was published. When I think back, I worked very hard on that book and I don’t recall sitting around waiting for ‘inspiration’. I’ve always had a strong work ethic and I’ve never had trouble sitting down to write, whether it was a one act play in high school, poetry in university, or the non-fiction books and novels I wrote later in life. I’ve always loved writing, it just never occurred to me to do it professionally – until I retired from my first career – teaching.
For me, the act of writing is a discipline. I don’t wait until I’m in the mood to write, or wait for some sudden flash of inspiration. For me, the key is to be able to relax. What if I feel stressed? I sit and breathe deeply and clear my mind of any problems that are besetting me. Sometimes, that can take a while. Once I have relaxed and focused my mind on the task at hand I begin to feel the flow of ideas into my mind and I start typing.
One more thing. I have my Muse and she’s all the inspiration I need… just ask her!