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You need to wait for inspiration

The Seven Myths of Novel Writing

I’m debunking some myths around writing a novel. The first one was ‘There’s only one way to do it‘. I hinted yesterday that these myths can be a form of procrastination – if only I had the perfect system or the perfect idea I’d be able to finish my novel. But these are red herrings. What you actually need is to turn up. In other words, you need time and space to do it, and you need to make it a habit. Waiting for inspiration can be a huge source of procrastination too, so the second myth of novel writing is ‘you need to wait for inspiration’.

Who’s going to give it to you?

Let me ask you this question: if you’re ‘waiting’ for inspiration, who or what is going to arrive and give it to you? This myth is to do with mindset. Because if you think that inspiration happens somewhere else – out there somewhere – while you’re trapped in a mundane life entirely lacking in inspiration, you’re going to be waiting for a long time.

Two kinds of waiting

Now I think there are two kinds of waiting. To illustrate this, let’s imagine you want to get on a train. How do the two kinds of waiting apply?

  1. If you waited for the train say, on a park bench, it’s unlikely that you’re going to catch a train. You’re wasting your time. You’re kidding yourself that you truly want to catch a train, and that the train is going to come to you. It’s possible you’re procrastinating because you’re scared of getting on the train and going wherever it’s going.
  2. If you go to the train station, it’s likely that (eventually) a train will turn up. It’s the same with waiting for inspiration. If you literally do nothing because you ‘can’t think of an idea’ – that’s the novel writing equivalent of waiting on a park bench for a train. If you go to a Creative Writing class, or read lots of inspiring books, or go to hear authors speak, that’s like waiting for the train in the train station.

Don’t wait for inspiration

BUT I don’t think you need to wait for inspiration at all. Why? For these reasons:

  1. It’s possible to start writing before you have a big idea because if you establish a habit first, ideas will arrive as you write.
  2. Absolutely anything could be ‘an idea’. Inspiration isn’t ‘out there’ somewhere. It’s right here now, in the shape of your experiences, the places you’ve seen, your local area, the objects around you and the stories they tell.
  3. If you deliberately put yourself in the way of interesting stuff – walks by the sea, or in nature, quirky shops, art galleries, local museums – and make a note of what occurs to you at the time, ideas will start to develop.   

Try this

Pick up anything near to you now. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stapler, a pair of socks or a pack of tarot cards. Where did it come from? Who owned it? What’s it been used for? What’s it made of? What if…? Make it up. Spend five minutes writing about this ‘ordinary’ object. Prove to yourself that you don’t have to wait for inspiration to come to you – it’s already all around you.

The Seven Myths of Novel Writing – all seven posts in one list

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