A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog on MySpace devoted to writing advice for teens. Over time, it evolved into a general blog on writing advice for everyone. I blathered on and on, answered questions, etc. Since then, I’ve pointed people to that blog when they’ve sent me questions on writing, but I know that MySpace isn’t always the most, uh, reliable repository for such things. Plus, if you’re not on MySpace, you can read the blogs, but you can’t comment on them.
So once a week (probably on Wednesdays), I’ll be reprinting my writing advice blogs here on barrylyga.com. I’ll go through and edit them a little bit, too, and I might make some merges/changes, so they won’t be exactly like they were on MySpace, but they’ll hopefully still be helpful to people who are interested.
Here we go!
Back when I originally posted this series on MySpace, someone calling herself “CuddleBug” said this:
When writing… what most inspires you? or is it just one of those things where you sit down just writing and then develop something along the way? …. WHY does one write? That’s a fun topic. Writing reveals alot, some stuff we don’t even know till we have put words down on a page.
I liked your post. I’m not really a writer, I consider myself more of a storyteller. When going somewhere, even just walking down the street to the store… an idea may hit me and it’s… it’s like a web… with strings connected and angles… I think my passion for imagining stories comes from my love of reading… the two can be catalysts unto themselves.. you have one that sparks the other, and vice versa.
The cool thing about her comment is that, in a way, she answered her own question. God, I love it when that happens. Makes my job so much easier.
Here’s the thing: All the writing advice in the world means nothing unless you have something write about. Otherwise, you’re just sitting around thinking about metaphors and structure and character, but you have no way to apply it. Sort of like having a great hammer, but no nails. Or vice-versa.
The problem with talking about inspiration, though, is this: It gets into that territory of the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Writers dread getting that question. Why? Because we don’t know.
We have no clue where the ideas come from.
Whenever someone asks me “Where do you get your ideas?” (and oh God, do they ask!), I always want to say, “I get them from the same place you don’t get yours, apparently.”
Because — big secret time — ideas are everywhere. The once and former CuddleBug hit the nail on the head above when she said, “When going somewhere, even just walking down the street to the store… an idea may hit me and it’s… it’s like a web… with strings connected and angles…”
That’s IT. That’s where ideas come from. They just… God, they just float around in the air and you walk through them. Walking down the street, doing the laundry, whatever. You don’t “get” your ideas — they just pounce on you.
So, look — if you don’t get ideas from the world around you, then you need to change your world. Try to travel or something. The next time you’re on vacation, instead of sitting in the hotel room watching pay-per-view, get out there and see the city or the town you’re in. Stop going to the same restaurant with your buddies — try someplace new (someplace that serves really weird food, preferably). See a movie you figure you won’t like. All of these things will shake up your environment…and when things get shaken up, sometimes ideas shake loose.
Like I said — easy blog post for me! Sort of. Because, you see, inspiration is a two-edged sword. There’s another element to it.
It goes like this. Someone is a writer wannabe and someone else says, “Why haven’t you written anything?” and the wannabe says, “I’m waiting for inspiration to strike.”
See, ideas can pounce on you, but you still have to do the hard work. Once you’ve got your idea, it’s like any other job in the world. You sit your ass down and you write. You do it every day. You don’t have the luxury of waiting to “feel like writing.” When you take your car to the garage, does the mechanic say, “Sorry, I can’t change your oil today — I’m not inspired.”
Again — uh, no.
Sorry, but being a writer does not exempt you from having to do the hard work of, you know, working.
I was talking to a fellow writer once. We were both in a period where we weren’t getting a lot of writing done for one reason or another. It’s not that we didn’t have ideas — we both knew exactly what our next projects would be. We just…weren’t writing. She said to me, “Are we just waiting for inspiration to strike?”
And I blurted out, “We don’t need inspiration, we’re professionals.”
We both got a good laugh out of that, but you know what? It’s true. Or, rather, it SHOULD be true. If you want to make your living as a writer, you can’t sit around waiting for the Muse to let loose with a volley of get-up-and-go. You need to wake up every morning, put your butt in front of the computer, and write. Even on the days when you don’t feel like it. Especially on the days you don’t feel like it. If I only wrote on the days when I felt like it, I would get very, very little done. Most days I wake up and I think, “Oh, God. I can’t do it. I suck. I’m a terrible writer. Why do I bother?” It would be really tempting to just bag it and wait for the days when I wake up all full of energy and wanting to write.
Guess what? You do that and you’ll be lucky ever to get through those million bad words we talked about a couple of weeks ago. Think about it — if you write every day, you’re gonna get to a million a lot faster than if you write, say, once a week.
So even on the days when I’m convinced that I am the crappiest writer who ever put his fingers to a keyboard, I still make myself write. And then — thank all the gods of writing — something magical happens: About ten minutes into it, I stop thinking that I’m a crappy writer. In fact, I stop thinking at all.
I’m just writing. Just letting the ideas flow.
Maybe I wasn’t inspired before, but now it’s happened because I opened myself up to it. And that’s the really big secret of writing and inspiration — when you’re receptive to it, when you make yourself do it, you’ll find that, as time goes on, it becomes easier and easier to inspire yourself. Just like learning to ride a bike or learning to drive, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
So stop reading this blog and go write something.