While I’m on maternity leave with Baby Milo, a few dear friends have written pieces just for you all. I know you’ll enjoy them, and I hope you’ll find some new writers to follow and add to your community. Today’s post is by the lovely Suzanne Terry.
Most of the writers I meet describe their writing practice as either their hobby or their work (or a hybrid of the two).
If writing is your hobby, it’s probably okay to wait for inspiration. I enjoy dancing, but I wouldn’t enjoy it as much if I forced myself into a must-dance-at-least-four-times-a-week expectation in order to feel like I had a right to say I like doing it. That’s how hobbies become burdens.
But when I have a specific writing goal I want to accomplish, doing so will require me to treat it like a job at some point. If I’m honest with myself, what I think of as writer’s block can more accurately be termed as a failure to show up and do the work.
I don’t know about your job, but I don’t just get to show up at the university where I am employed when I feel like it. I come to work when I’m tired. I come to work on the days I don’t care. I come to work when I have 10,000 other responsibilities on my to-do list. I come to work when I would rather be anywhere but there.
The magical thing about showing up is that, even when my workday starts out as a big pile of the don’t-wannas, it doesn’t end that way most of the time. Nice moments conspire to inspire me:
- An officemate will have already made the coffee when I arrive so that I can caffeinate with minimal effort.
- One of my committees will have a productive meeting that, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
- I will get to help a student resolve a problem that was causing them a great deal of anxiety.
Treating writing like it’s my job works the same way. Even when I would rather gnaw my arm off than sit down at my computer, making a writing schedule and sticking to it gives me the opportunity to create my own inspiration. My process isn’t fancy. I just start making sentences. I type one word…and then another…until my scheduled time is over. Inspiration usually does show up after a while. But I almost always have to make the first move.
Now, I’m not a patient person. If, after about ten minutes, I’m still not feeling it, I fall back on tried-and-true methods that refuel my drive to write. For example, I collect snippets. I squirrel away overheard conversations, passing thoughts I have throughout the day, intriguing quotes, etc., in the notes app on my phone. If I’m stuck, I grab a snippet and use it to write a random scene (or mini-rant or essay, if I’m writing nonfiction). The scene may not make the final cut in editing, but it often sparks enough creativity to lead to something that does.
Your inspiration practice may look different from mine. You might not even want to give it a 10-minute chance. A brisk walk around the block before you sit down to write could be what you need to prepare yourself mentally for the task ahead. Making enough time to read a book you love for a few minutes could remind you of the kind of writer you want to be. If you want to be inspired, tap into whatever inspires you and make it a part of your writing practice.
You don’t have to wait for it.
Suzanne Terry writes fiction and foodie nonfiction and is on schedule to complete a rough draft of her first fiction manuscript in June. She blogs and Instagrams about books, food, justice, and coffee. She reads broadly and deeply, loves dancing, and tolerates running.