Following Inspiration


For a while I wrote fiction the way I read fiction: I wasn’t really interested in plot and characters but only in certain shining moments where some searingly true perception burst through. With the novels I loved I would memorize these passages the way I memorized poems; meanwhile, the stories I wrote were just vehicles meant to bring me to a place where inspiration would overtake me and something would occur that was beyond me and happened through me, something that when it began felt like magic and when it ended felt like reality had been set free.

It’s great when that happens, but seeking it and it alone is not a great strategy for novel writing. For that you simply have to care deeply about plots and characters. It is, however, a pretty good strategy for life. Not only do I love the experience of feeling inspired, of reading a passage so alive it jolts me back to life, or when I’m writing and don’t feel like I’m actually doing anything but am just allowing something to happen – I’ve found that I never go wrong following or listening to an inspired idea. They’re the best and maybe the only good ideas I ever have.

Yet much of my writing life has been learning how to make peace with inspiration. As wonderful as it is, as life affirming as it is, and as helpful as it is, inspiration doesn’t give a damn about my bank account. Inspiration doesn’t care about books sales or awards or Twitter followers. That inspiration is its own reward is obvious enough when you’re in the throes of it, when you’re riding that beautiful horse, just using your skill to stay on her so you can find where she’s headed – it is a little less obvious when I’m plodding around the world buying underwear or wondering why the water pressure in my bathroom sink is lousy. Life seems to flatten out and I feel as though I’m looking for some elusive treasure.

It is hard in those daily, domestic, uninspired moments to remember that inspiration will lead me where I need to go. For instance, it eventually led me away from novels to the sort thing I write in this space. It took a long time, I grant you. I had an idea about what I would write and I was going to stick to it, damn it, because I’m a stick-to-it kind of guy. Inspiration didn’t care about my idea. It came forward and said, “Follow me.” Whenever I did, I felt happy, and interested, and life was easy. Whenever I didn’t, things got hard again, and writing started to feel like buying underwear.

Eventually, grudgingly, surprisingly, I found myself here. At times I feel like I had no role in this change in the same way I have no say so over what inspiration offers. But in fact I played a crucial role in this journey. I got closer to where I am now every single time I chose easy over hard, curiosity over duty, love over fear – making these choices not for where they would lead me but only for how they left me feeling the moment I made them.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
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