On one timescale it doesn’t matter whether inspiration comes from hard work, bolts from the blue, or a gift from the candy fairy. As long as you’re getting the ideas that’s what counts. The scale where that’s the case is the immediate moment of inspiration.
On another timescale, it really does matter. If inspiration is something that just happens to you then you don’t need to work towards it. In fact, you can’t work towards it. This leaves you disempowered, unable to affect your process of generating ideas, and gives you an excuse for inaction – if I can’t make myself have ideas then I should just wait for them. This leaves you with no reason to practise coming up with ideas, or to explore new ways of generating them. If you think that inspiration just happens you won’t work at encouraging it, and so won’t exercise the mental muscles that are really working when inspiration strikes.
Even if there’s part of inspiration that we don’t understand, that microscale moment where two ideas crash together to form something beautiful and new, it’s important not to mystify that process. If you want to have more inspiration then you need to look at the entirely comprehensible macro scale, where your hard work and practice makes a difference, the scale on which you create a space in which ideas can’t help but collide. By doing this you take control of your process and become better at it. You get rid of your excuse – ‘I’m waiting for an idea’ – and get down to work.
Even this post comes off the back of that process. I’ve been listening to a lot of Writing Excuses, which has taught me to think critically about all the writing processes, including generating ideas. I’ve been going through counselling, which has taught me to examine my own thought processes and the connection between instinctive and rational thinking. And I’ve been applying both sets of learning, practising using those processes to generate ideas about how I think and about how I write. That inspired my post, and meant qbik4’s response slammed into other thoughts in my head and led to this follow up.
What I’m trying to get you to do, if you’re reading this, isn’t necessarily to agree with me. I don’t mind whether you think of inspiration as something magical and external. What matters is that you act like you agree with me, that you focus on the way you can affect your inspiration. Because if you don’t, you’re already half way to giving up, and you’re better than that. Everyone is.
Oh, and go listen to Writing Excuses, especially if you write sf+f. Seriously, it’s great.