Yesterday, Jim of Unknown Jim asked me this question – “Why do you hate the word ‘inspiration’ so much, Andi?” While my first response was to want to try to ease back from the word “hate” because, well, I hate the word “hate,” I realized quickly that it was true:
I hate the word “inspiration.”
1. Having to look for ‘inspiration’ takes away my power as a writer. I am a writer; this is my identity; this is also what I do. If I have to wait for inspiration or the muse to show up, I’m in a big pile of trouble. As Barbara Kingsolver says, “Don’t wait for the Muse. She has a lousy work ethic. Writers just write.”
2. People sometimes use inspiration as an excuse for why they don’t write. As in, “I just wasn’t inspired to write today.” or “I can only write when I’m inspired.” For me, writing is work – it’s work I love – but it’s work. My livelihood both fiscally and mentally. When people put the responsibility for writing on something outside of themselves, it calls to mind an accountant who gets to say, “You know, I just don’t FEEL like doing numbers today.” It’s okay if writing is a hobby for some, but if this is what you do and who you are, then “inspiration” shows up when you turn to the page.
3. The larger world sees “inspired” things as less valuable. We live in a world where art and creativity are vastly undervalued. In popular culture, artists of all sorts are often depicted as lazy, dirty, and flighty people who cannot get a “real” job. When we use “inspiration” as the motivation behind our work, it makes it very easy for people to believe these stereotypes. I would rather have show people how hard we work than feed into these false, harmful perceptions of what we do.
Do things inspire me? Of course. Great music. The words of friends. The crazy tenacity of a carpenter bee buzzing into the wooden shelf above my desk. I take all kinds of energy and ideas from these experiences. But I don’t like to think of “inspiration” as the reason I work. I work because it is my life. I will do it if I have to find “inspiration” in the grain of the desk I stare at every day. I don’t work for inspiration; she works for me.
What do you think of the idea of inspiration? How does she work in your writing practice?