Bursting the "Writing Should Be Inspired" Balloon
Letting Go of the Myth of Inspired Writing to Write More
I was once watching a pilot for a TV show whose protagonist was a professor at Oxford or Cambridge or some other ancient British institution. The show took great pains to establish her at work in her profession (which interestingly, never included teaching). The camera followed her as she poured over old books in a Hogwartsesque library and furiously scribbled away on a legal pad. The library was quiet and filled with other travelers on the road to intellectual breakthrough. She was focused, intent, and immersed in her work and we in the audience could feel her excitement at each new discovery. I felt inspired and I remember thinking, “wow, I want her job.”
Dear reader, it took a laughable amount of time for me to realize that I, in fact, had her job. I was a university professor, a researcher, and a writer; yet the romanticized version of research writing seemed foreign and disconnected from my lived day-to-day. She spent days on end in that library without any distractions (save the immanent peril that eventually found her. Don’t worry, she then turned into Indiana Jones to save the day). I didn’t even recognize this representation of my own profession.
This familiar depiction of life in the academy is alluring for so many of us and that image of the academic is connected to a fundamental myth we tell ourselves about writing. We believe that all writing should be inspired, that it has some ideal conditions that must be met for it to happen, and that if we don’t feel like writing, then it will be impossible. We chase the romance and yearn for our Hogwarts library that will make the writing appear magically on the page.
Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash
Not only does this myth make writing illusive, but it sets the bar so high that when we do write, we often judge that writing as uninspired. We spend copious amounts of time editing each sentence as we write because we are still seeking that perfect inspired thought that lands on the page with gusto.