We writers are narcissistic, almost by definition. We live in our own little worlds, and we expect others to accept them without question. We think we’re fascinating, and that other people should be fascinated by us and the things that we do. We’ve romanticized this notion to such a gross extent that we believe others will be interested in our ramblings about typing words into a computer at 3:00 a.m., and will read these mewlings with bated breath as though we’re saving babies from burning buildings.
Because in our minds, we are.
Every time you write, you’re creating something that never existed before, and in so doing, you’re altering the very fabric of existence, adding a little thread to the fabric of space-time that never existed before. That’s no small feat, and you’re entitled to at least a modicum of arrogance as a result — at least that’s what I tell myself every day.
We are so in love with ourselves, and our craft, we’ve convinced ourselves our ability to imagine, think, and write the way we do comes from some supernatural force. We call this force “inspiration,” embodied since ancient times in the muses. When we find work difficult, we blame them. And we wonder why people find us flaky and difficult. If a surgeon removed your mother’s liver instead of her appendix, causing her death, and his defense was “I’m sorry, Asclepius was not speaking to me today and ignored my offerings,” would you pat him on the shoulder, offer your condolences, and feel bad for him? No. No, you wouldn’t.
And yet we, as writers, fully expect others to do exactly that; and to understand and empathize with us. We’re special in that way. We’re not like doctors, with someone’s life in our hands. We just think we are.
If you knew nothing about electric energy or electrostatic discharges, but you did know that lightning had destroyed your neighbor’s home, perhaps you’d be inclined to conclude that your neighbor had disfavored Zeus in some way, causing the god to lash out in retaliation and destroy something of his. Inspiration, and the muses, work in the same way — as placeholders for something we can’t explain empirically.
What is this motivational flash we call inspiration, then? Athletes call it being in the zone — when everything’s flowing perfectly, every pass is perfect, and every shot connects with its target. It’s as though time is flowing in slow motion; you can see and calculate every detail with precision. They call it that because they don’t know what prompts it or how to call it up on demand — because we provide placeholders for the unknown. We credit them for our victories; we blame them for our falls. The former, because we’re shy or modest; the latter, because we’re cowards.
I know, because I’ve been in the zone, and let me tell you, it’s an amazing feeling. But when I’m not in the zone, I don’t blame the zone for its absence — I play on. You do something that you love because you love it, but you realize that just because you love it, doesn’t mean it will always come easy. With this realization comes an understanding that if something never presents hardship, if it never challenges you, you’re not pushing as hard as you can. And if you don’t push as hard as you can, you’ll never go as far as you can go.
As much as we’d perhaps like it to, inspiration doesn’t come from some fickle, jealous supernatural entity that bestows blessings on a whim. Inspiration comes from open things — open hearts, open eyes, open minds. Lethargy and apathy alike close doors without us even realizing, because we’re too wrapped up in our own mythos and grandiose self-pity.
The English word “inspire” has Latin and French roots; it means, literally, “to breathe.”
If you’re not inspired, you’re not alive.