The Nobel-Prize-winning writer William Faulkner published 19 novels, 125 short stories, 20 screenplays, one play, and six collections of poetry. How on earth did he manage to stay inspired?
Here’s what Faulkner himself said: “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”
Whoa. Is Faulkner’s attitude about inspiration unique among prolific writers?
Ask Joyce Carol Oates: “If you feel that you just can’t write or you’re too tired or this, that, and the other, just stop thinking about it… You don’t have to wait to be inspired. Just start working.”
Or Stephen King: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Or Margaret Atwood: “You become a writer by writing. There is no other way. So do it. Do it more. Do it again. Do it better. Fail. Fail better.”
So, is there no place for inspiration in the writing process? Of course there is!
Leonard Bernstein put it this way: “Inspiration is wonderful when it happens. But the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time.”
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. What does such an approach look like?
Alice Walker may have an answer: “Part of writing is not so much that you’re going to actually write something every day, but what you should have, or need to have, is the possibility, which means the space and time set aside — as if you were going to have someone come to tea.”
Here’s how I interpret Alice’s advice — if you are serious about writing, you have to set aside regular times and places for it, so that there’s space for inspiration to show up. Otherwise, even when inspiration does knock on the door, there’s no room for it to enter.