Ten Percent

Most of you are probably familiar with the adage, “Writing is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” Fair enough. You’ve got to put your butt in the seat, as the other saying goes, and many a book sits half-finished on laptops and in bottom drawers because the writer was unwilling to return to the desk on a day he or she didn’t feel like it.

Of course, how often—if you aren’t working in, say, Tijuana or Biloxi—do you actually perspire while writing? Oddly enough, it happens to me fairly regularly, but only when I am inspired. Or, to put it in my own vernacular, when I have found my way to the center of the story’s current. When I am in the center of the current, everything moves quickly, including my blood apparently, and if I can get out of the way and not fear the speed of the current, I might be lucky enough to require a shirt change when the workday is through.

On the other hand, when I am trying to work even though I am nowhere near the current, I am cold.  If I make the mistake of trying to grind out words, to write my way back to the current, an exercise that can easily consume my entire workday, I come away from the desk feeling disinterested in life, a slave to a house that needs heating and mouths that need feeding. On these days, writing feels like any other job, only without security.

The perspiration in this truism reflects the absolute necessity to return to the desk regardless of your state of mind at the time you have set aside to work. What it should not reflect is your attitude toward the work. I believe you must seek inspiration every single workday. View yourself as a mule dragging your plow through some field, and the work will reflect it. Expect inspiration, and many days you will get it.

Obviously, no two workdays are ever the same, but I have come to understand that the balance and patience required to let through the most inspired work is, in the loosest definition of the word, a muscle. That is, with practice, what had once seemed a gift of fate becomes a feat of discipline. And not surprisingly, I have also found that in both quality and quantity ten minutes of inspired writing are usually more productive than ninety minutes of uninspired laboring.

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