One of the things I’ve really struggled with as a writer is working with and against moments of inspiration. Writing is easy when you have that rush of a new story, that weird “delivered post haste by muses” feeling, which Stephen King talks about as a kind of excavation of story. Writing in that mode is so easy, and the writing that comes out of it is so good, that it’s hard to convince yourself that you don’t want to just follow that river all the way to the ocean.
But you can’t, actually, always write that way when writing is your profession. And, even worse, I’ve found myself so many times in a position where I have to ignore the story that’s calling (we’ll call it “passion-story”) in order to work on the story that’s due (we’ll call it “slog-story”), and looked at the story I have to write with such disgust because of it. Everything in the slog-story sucks, everything comes out wrong, everything is absolute insipid uninspired bullshit. And it’s not an illusion–all my cleverness is off with passion-story, dancing in a meadow. I know, because when I break down and write a few paragraphs of the story I wish I was working on, it’s easy, quick, natural, and all the best things I bring to my writing are right there on the page. But then it’s back to slog-story, and slog-story is even worse for having seen how much easier it would be to work on passion-story.
I wish it were easy to just give slog-story all the joy of passion-story, like a wire transfer of inspiration. Sadly, I’ve found that just isn’t the way writing works.
I always feel like I’m robbing passion-story of its full potential when I force myself not to work on what passion dictates. And in some senses, I am, because passions are fickle and I may not have the drive to pour into it later.
But, in the wisdom of Neil Gaiman, you need at least two out of three,1 and even at my best, even writing my passion-story, I’ll never admit that my own writing is any good because I never feel like it is. So, that means I have to be both pleasant and on time. Pleasant is easy. On time leads to slog.
My hope above hopes is that one day I’ll be able to rein in the muses, and convince them to go where I want them to. That seems unlikely. In all probability, if I’m lucky, I’ll just someday be more than two steps from starving to death on the street and I’ll be less concerned about whether or not I’m about to screw up my career by being an entitled perfectionist artiste. Because the truth is, I can slog a mediocre tale with the best of them. But I want to write something I would call literature and I don’t know how.
Sigh. Grindstone. Back to it.
- “People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”