Friday, January 13, 2006


Everyone talks about perspiration. Everyone talks about the long slog. Everyone talks about things like endurance and practice.

But what about inspiration?

I'll be honest. I've never understood writers who find the actual physical act of writing painful. To me, there's nothing more pleasurable than writing. There's nothing more insanely beautiful than sitting down to write--either longhand or on the computer--and find your fingers out-running your brain. To be so inspired that you're not thinking as you write, that you're just the vessel, the receptacle, for the words, which are pouring out as if they were your life's blood.

Look, the slow slog is true. A lot of your days are spent slogging through, of just making the forced march necessary to complete a story/novella/novel. You can't be inspired every day just like you can't be madly, deeply, insanely in love every day. It's just not possible. No one can sustain that. Your relationship over time with words, with stories, with characters, has to be deeper than that first rush of emotion.

But also, at base, that's what it's all about. It's about the almost sensual pressure of your fingers on the keyboard or the press of the pen against the notepad. It's about the point at which you stop thinking and you're channeling something through your fingers and you almost don't know how you got to that point.

You can't be madly in love all of the time, but if you're not in love some of the time, how do you continue?

I'm not suggesting that what one produces during blind inspiration/infatuation is superior to what you produce during the slow slog, but my god, why do you write if not for that moment when the world opens up before you and yet narrows to that singular point of pen against paper, that sensual drag of fingers across keys? Why do you write if not for that moment when you’re opened up to the point where there’s nothing of you left but the story and the characters and the words? Why?

We live and we die in such a short period of time. Why waste your time doing something you don’t get pleasure from?

I get pleasure from writing. An obscene amount of pleasure. From the physical act of putting pen to paper, or of typing words into a Word document, unromantic as that sounds. And on those days when I feel my heart beating fast and my mind focusing on something unreal to make it real. When I rise from sleep full of story or moment or character or image and when I write it seems as natural as breathing…well, that’s a bit like knowing what it’s like to be alive. Of being reminded. And of something flowing up and through me, which whether it is from me or something greater than me, imbues me (and the writing) with the same feeling.

I know the excrutiation of choosing the wrong word, of knowing I’ve taken the wrong path. I know the deep disappointment of being unable to make the vision on the paper match the vision in one’s head. This happens a lot. Sometimes it is unbearable.

But, regardless, on a basic level, why does one write except for the pleasure of the physical act of writing—without thought, without intent, without agenda. But simply…writing until there is nothing to the world except for the story.

God, I want to write right now. I want to be written.



At 3:15 AM, Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

That's really beautiful, Jeff. Now I think I'll go write too.

At 3:59 AM, Anonymous Clare said...

Exactly so - heartfelt, true, and I have to say...inspired...but it can also drive you beautifully the point where everything else becomes unreal...or is that just me?

At 5:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a boundary, Clare, where either everything else becomes unreal or the vision in your head becomes so real that you're evenly balanced between it and the real world. So I know what you're talking about. The brain really does, at some times, maybe even just for a moment, have trouble distinguishing. Which might be another way of knowing that the work is going well?


At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like one inspired posting to me! And, very sincerely and accurately catches the passion of those who are lucky enough to have felt this since we first gripped a graphite pencil. The act itself, as you say, is a part of it. I even loved doing Algebra and filling notebooks up with symbols!

susan @ spinning

At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Vera Nazarian said...

Hmm, interesting.

For some of us the act of writing is painful, literally.

My fingers, already ruined through decades of data entry by carpal tunnel, feel thick / numb or swollen. I can type only with 4 fingers -- never could afford to learn to type correctly and now it is too late and my bad habit is ingrained -- so even the act of typing a single sentence, though relatively fast, is an excruciating journey of going back over and fixing the mistyped words, and then focusing my vision for the dyslexic third pass to catch things I did not "see" on the first one.

And if I try to write with a pen, real agony sets in, and the finger grip is such a strain that in about 5 minutes I have to put the pen down and resort to the lameass 4 finger typing.

Yes, writing is a genuine pain. The thought of *beginning* to write is terrifying.

But it is only when I am so wrapped up by the throughts and concepts and images that I forget the sensual act, "leave" my body, that I can feel the joy of it.

To get to the joy-space I have to hurdle the physical barrier.

At 5:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm so sorry to hear that. I was thinking of writers who tell me it is mental agony to write, but I hadn't thought of the fact that for some it is physically difficult. I've skirted carpal tunnel a few times and do go through periods where it seems like curling my fingers around a pen is about the same as curling them around a wrench or a hammer and trying to write, but nothing approaching what you describe.


At 9:01 AM, Blogger authortobe said...

Writing is shear bliss-it's emotional as well, so I guess it could be proceived as painful, although I see it as a release! Life is an inspiration for me!

At 5:49 AM, Anonymous Paul Jessup said...

Jeff- I highly agree with you on this. And you are not just talking inspiration, but what propels it- passion. I wonder myself why people who are not passionate about writing want to write.

I think this has inspired me to post some stuff in my blog on the subject.

I've skirted carpal tunnel a few times and do go through periods where it seems like curling my fingers around a pen is about the same as curling them around a wrench or a hammer and trying to write, but nothing approaching what you describe.

I actually can't write by hand anymore without experience cramps and extreme pain within the first sentance. It's something that started happening to me in highschool and got worse as time progressed.

I kind of miss it- but can't go back. Typing isn't as bad. But can be painfull after an hour or so. Of course, it's still at the stage where extra-strength tylenol will cure any typing ailments (but writing by hand is lost, even after pain killers).

At 2:13 PM, Blogger redchurch said...

I don't find writing all-painful or all-joyous. It's a little of both.

But there is a difference between the passion for writing and the passion for ideas.

I'll take a solid plot and well-constructed narrative any day over beautiful prose. I want a good story, not poetry. Hence the difference.

But clearly people expect different things from their fiction.

As for showing readers the passion, I think the reader brings passion (or lack of it) themselves.

There's a scene in Five Easy Pieces where Jack Nicholson plays a moving piece at the piano and the woman listening says "Wow, you played that with a lot of passion! I could feel it!" And he says (paraphrased) "I didn't feel anything at all when I played it. I just played it."

There is a portion of writing that slips between the cracks for me. I might not be feeling anything at all when I write it. But who is to say someone might not read it and find it the most beautiful thing on Earth? And why would I argue with that?

There's a place for passion, but not everything has to be passionate.

Your mileage may vary.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger redchurch said...

Thought I'd add that writers demonstrate passion in different ways from one another.

My passion is a brand of tough love. You've got to be able to distance yourself from the things that don't help the story, and be willing to sacrifice those things no matter how beautiful they are.

If you love everything you do, then how do you edit or mash it into a decent story?

I don't buy the philosophy if it's passionate, it will be good. For me it's more about the story--either what I'm writing helps the story or it doesn't.

While I'm writing? Sure... everything I do is the greatest thing since sliced bread til I come back and read it later.

That's why the muse and the editor sit in different rooms. ;)

At 3:17 PM, Blogger JeffV said...

I think you're arguing with yourself, Redchurch.

I'm not claiming passionate writing is any better than non-passionate (in terms of the act of creation). But it's clearly a plus if you like the physical act of writing, I think, since, obviously, we all like to feel good.

What goes on after that initial inspiration has nothing to do with passion and everything to do with discipline.

I don't buy your assumption that plot and beautiful sentences are anathema to one another.


At 5:45 AM, Anonymous PaulJessup said...

I'll take a solid plot and well-constructed narrative any day over beautiful prose. I want a good story, not poetry. Hence the difference.

And why not have both? Why one or the other? I think readers should demand both, should expect both poetry and plot.

I agree Jeff- Passion is the seed. Discipline comes with the actual work itself.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger redchurch said...

I never said the two were mutually exclusive.

Passion and inspiration are obvious requirements. They start a lot of novels--but don't necessarily finish them. ;)

That's discipline as Paul said.

The point is that just about anybody can have passion. Anybody who bothers to write at all probably has some degree of passion or they wouldn't be doing it?

What separates one person from another is the discipline beyond the passion.

I know lots of creative people who are plenty passionate, inspired, what have you... yet they can never seem to finish anything, or change anything about their lives. And they wonder why.

There's so much more than just passion!

Maybe I should do a post about 'grit.' ;-)

At 1:10 PM, Anonymous PaulJessup said...

That's discipline as Paul said.

well, actually, Jeff said it. I was just agreeing with him.

The point is that just about anybody can have passion. Anybody who bothers to write at all probably has some degree of passion or they wouldn't be doing it?

I think this is another case of everybody agreeing with one another, and nobody noticing it.


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