There are times when I get this overwhelming compulsion to write something – anything – but I don’t actually have anything to write about. And then I think about it a little bit, and I can’t think of anything that I really want to write about. It’s a rather strange and inconvenient predicament to be in.
But it is dispiriting to stare at a blank screen for too long, so I eventually move on, and quell this compulsion – or at least drown it out by doing other things.
I have previously thought, on several occasions, about whether it is better to just force oneself to sit down and write, or whether it is better to wait for inspiration. A lot of advice posts/articles recommend dedicating a set time to write. These people argue that if you schedule it in, and sit down and force yourself to write something, then eventually the words will flow naturally.
I can testify that there is some merit to this method, but it relies on being able to get over the blatant imperfection of anything constructed in this manner. This is hard for someone like me, who likes to construct neat sentences in their mind before writing a word of it down on paper (or typing, as it may be). I like to try to use the backspace key sparingly.
When I was writing my novel last year (still feels weird to call it a novel), I did find this advice helpful. What allowed me to loosen my perfectionist restraint was the reassurance that everything was going to be revised and edited in the end anyway. First drafts are called “rough drafts” because they’re not meant to be perfect.
And what of waiting for inspiration?
Well, inspiration is pretty important – there’s no denying that – but you don’t have to wait for it. When it strikes out of the blue, it’s such a magnificent eureka moment, and one of the most exhilarating feelings I have known; but I suppose inspiration is really just like the kindling or spark – the small impetus that gets something moving – and you can actively seek it out.
I actually don’t remember how I got my initial inspiration for my novel, but I vaguely remember that the sparks along the way, throughout each chapter, sometimes appeared unexpectedly (when I woke up, as I was falling asleep, when I was brushing my teeth, or on the way to work). But there were just as many times when I went digging for inspiration. These weren’t times when I was in front of the computer writing, or even when I had pen and paper at hand to write notes. These were times when I was walking through the park, or when I was eating lunch, or doing some other commonplace thing. At these times, I would meditate on what my characters should do, and eventually the inspiration came.
In support of the “wait for inspiration” argument, I should say also that, although it is dispiriting to stare at a blank page, it is also rather dispiriting to go back and rewrite/delete whole paragraphs because they weren’t well thought out, and just don’t fit.
Sometimes I think writing is some strange form of intellectual torture (and a self-imposed one too!)
In the end, I suppose there’s no real right or wrong way. Like a lot of things in life, you just have to find out what works for you.