When I was a baby writer, I taught myself to ignore words like muse, writer’s block, inspiration. These words were unhelpful to me, because what all baby writers need to learn is to finish things. What I was learning in fits and starts was how to do the work. That was my mantra for years, and necessarily so: Just do the work, Beth. Do the work.
But work alone doesn’t a good writer make.
I tweeted something the other day that seemed to resonate with a few people, and it’s something I’ve been re-learning lately:
Because now I’ve learned the hard bit, the work, the finishing of things, I need to put my energy back into those more mystical aspects of writing. Inspiration, intuition, ideas.
Intuition is an interesting one. I haven’t heard a lot about it in the writing world, but it’s something I’m coming to rely on the longer I do this. Part of it is that after four years of cramming my head full of grammar rules, industry trends, critiques and advice, I’m having to work to hear my own creative voice again.
I’ll give you an example. I’ve had a really hard time finding the beginning of my story. I’ve written probably a dozen versions of the first few chapters, and I’ve discarded them all. The version I sent out to agents was passable and critique-partner approved, but passable just doesn’t cut it in such a competitive industry. Every agent I spoke to in that time gave me feedback on my manuscript and most of it was focused on the beginning.
After signing with Joan, I jumped back into revisions once again, but despite all that feedback, I still couldn’t get it right. More discarded words, more fruitless attempts. I ended up going to my husband and moaning for about half an hour before he said something to me that cut right to the heart of my problem: You have too many voices in your head. Forget what everyone else is saying. Write the beginning you want to write.
So I did. I had a collection of maybe six possible opening lines, all of which would lead me in different directions. I considered each of them, examining how they made me feel, listening to my intuition as it lead me to the line that best represented my character and her world. I didn’t expect to land on the line I eventually chose. But it feels right. And after weeks of struggling, suddenly I’m powering through.
Everyone gives the same advice: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. But the thing is, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes just do the work is terrible advice. It doesn’t give you room to listen to your own voice, your intuition. It leaves no room for finding inspiration. Sometimes what you need most is quiet and ears to listen.
Work and inspiration. I’m becoming better at making room for both.