Inspiration comes last, or second to last. But it rarely comes first. Don’t wait for it. It won’t just show up. Not unless, and until, you put your butt in the chair first and do the work.
Those are words, from a lot of authors, but particularly here, from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, that have pushed me to the keyboard every day for the last 18 days and helped me reach what I hope is my first in a long line of book-writing goals.
She writes this:
“So don’t wait around to be inspired before you get to work, folks. You may be waiting a long time. Instead — as I have said on this page before many times — follow your curiosity, which is a more common, modest and trustworthy impulse. What are you interested in? What makes you turn your head and say, “Huh…I want to know more about that…”? What topic or vision is fascinating enough that it could sustain your attention for the years of effort it might take to actually finish a project?
Find that thing, commit yourself to it, and then show up and get to work.
Don’t wait to follow the angels. The angels will follow YOU, once they see you are serious about your labors.”
I have thought about writing this book for years, even attempted a chapter once. That was four years ago and I hadn’t touched it since. Then something kind of bizarre happened. Someone asked me to help edit their book. Just a man who had a story, he sat down now and then over the course of 20 years and pieced together something he wanted to share with the world. He eventually realized he still wasn’t finished, but it struck me — if he can write a book, why can’t I.
I found the National Novel Writing Month project and thought it was just the kick in the pants I would need to sit down every day and write this darn book.
Some days the words came quick and easy. Some days I spent a stupid amount of time staring at a flashing cursor waiting for inspiration. Then I would read pep talks from published authors that said things like; write right now, make it pretty later, And, do you remember how many books you wrote while waiting for inspiration to show up? Probably none.
NaNoWriMo is about writing, not writing “perfection.”
I know some people don’t like NaNoWriMo for lots of reasons like its yardstick for success being word quantity instead of quality. But a lot of people like it for the same reason I do. It’s a personal challenge with the benefit of knowing 300,000 other writers are slaving away at their keyboards. It’s a chance for encouragement, to see a target and shoot for it.
This morning, I sat down to write the last 2, 722 words, a task I could sometimes pound out in two hours. Today was a blank day. I was so close to finishing without a thought of where to go next. So I just started babbling, random words on the page. Little by little, I saw a path for my characters and had them take it. I finished about six hours after sitting down the first time to write.
This approach can feel a little desperate, like walking in the dark when your eyes haven’t adjusted. And it is often where I stop writing. No inspiration. Better do something else.
But just like walking in the dark, eventually you start to see shapes, outlines, you find your way. Maybe you hit a wall now and then. Whatever. It makes for a funny water cooler story. But the point is, the words, the effort of lifting fingers up and setting them down on keys, came first — inspiration followed.
If I hadn’t let that message sink in, “don’t wait to follow the angels,” I would have stopped on day five. I wouldn’t have been able to say to myself, here it is, day 18 and I did it, I have actually written 50,000 words — about 200 pages — of a book.
I know from my time in journalism, and by looking at the state of what I’ve actually written, that the biggest, most emotionally draining and most exciting part is out there still, beyond November. But documenting the end of NaNoWriMo for myself and my friends and family who have been my cheerleaders is a big step in a sweet direction.
Thanks all! I am off to find celebratory chocolate.