It amazes me how often we -- or perhaps I should be honest here and say "I" -- need to relearn the same lessons. That bit about bite-size resolutions that I talked about in the previous issue, for example, is a lesson I've had to relearn many times. And that resolution is part of the reason I've had to relearn yet another writing lesson.
I learned it the first time in my first "real-world" editorial job, at Fancy Publications, some (mumble mumble) years ago. I'd just landed the post of "Associate Editor" at Dog Fancy, and to say that I was green would be like saying water is wet. I don't recall if it was my first day on the job, but it was close enough, when one of the other editors came in and informed me, "I need you to write an article on flea control products."
Sounds great, I thought. Let me at it. Flea control... "All the notes are in here," she added, putting a bulging file folder on my desk. (This, by the way, was also my introduction to writing "product pieces," but that's another story.) "When do you need it?" I asked. "This afternoon," was the answer.
This afternoon? My approach to "writing an article" up to this point had been the study-your-notes, stare-into-space, and most of all, "wait for inspiration to strike" mode. I don't think it had ever taken me less than a week to compose a full-length article, and sometimes it took longer. The idea of writing an entire 2000-word article between, approximately, ten in the morning and two in the afternoon made about as much sense as attempting to follow up with a bit of brain surgery in the evening.
And yet... This was my job. (As on "on the line.") So I started going through the notes, and pounding on the typewriter (yes, typewriter), and by afternoon I had a respectable article in hand. The editor read it, made a few marks with a red pencil, and it was good to go. And so, as they say, I learned a valuable lesson about (the writing) life: You do not have to "wait for inspiration" to actually write.
Yet "waiting for inspiration" has been exactly what I've been doing with respect to my novel for... well, let's just say a bit longer than I like to admit. I've always had great excuses -- starting a new website, working on an article assignment that actually pays, and so forth. But the real, rock-bottom reason for "waiting for inspiration" is fear: Fear that, if you sit down in that chair and apply the fingers to the keyboard, the inspiration won't, in fact, come. And if it doesn't, you'll either churn out garbage -- or nothing at all.
But the end of the year found me with something very unusual: Time on my hands. The book edit was finished; all my articles were written; and I couldn't come up with any plausible mind-numbing job that absolutely needed doing on one of my websites. In short, I was out of excuses. So I decided to give it a shot.
And as soon as I sat down and applied fingers to keys, I found something: Inspiration. Ideas began to flow -- ideas I hadn't even contemplated when working out the outline to this particular novel. Scenes fell into place; twists sprang like magic into the plot. Characters not only came to life but deigned to share some of the inner workings of those lives with me. Now, I can hardly stand to leave that chair; everything else goes on hold while I find out "what happens next." To say "it's a rush" is an understatement.
Once again, I've learned: You don't have to "wait" for the muse in order to write. I'd been seeking inspiration in every place but the right place to find it: In front of the keyboard. Now that I've found it, I don't plan to let it slip away.
The bottom line is this: If you're waiting for the muse, try what I tried. Sit down at the keyboard, and start writing. You may find that the muse has actually been there all along, waiting for you.
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