The Artist's Dilemma: Inspiration vs Perspiration

My grandmother liked quoting Edison. Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration. I never really understood it at the time, but I have since learned to understand. Mostly because of this one statement.

I’m waiting for inspiration.

What this tells me is that the person isn’t interested in being a serious writer. They feel no need to pressure their muse, no inclination to ask her to perform.

My muse, on the other hand, is sipping tea and shaking her head, watching while I’m producing yet more content.

I love getting shining moments of inspiration. They are brilliant, shining jewels and every time I wake up with a novel or a world clinging to the diaphanous tatters of my dream, I sit down and write out the high points and try to capture everything I can on paper before I’m fully awake.

On the other hand, after having produced two published novels and three short stories, with two more in ‘editor’s prerogative’ land, I have had the blissful raiment of waiting for inspiration purged from my vocabulary. I have projects that have been on hold for years because I don’t have enough hours in a day. Inspiration is on backlog at this point.

Yes, Tina, you you you. Not everyone is a machine. Not everyone can be expected to produce all the time!

I think my reason for disliking the ‘waiting for inspiration’ excuse (and it IS an excuse) is because it used to be MY excuse. I didn’t want to sit down and type for hours a day! I didn’t want to wait on editors to read my perfection and tell me how great I was! All I wanted was perfectbound paperbacks lined up like obedient soldiers, all with my name on them.


That sounded like work.

And oh my God, is writing work. I don’t agonize over the keyboard wondering what to write anymore. I know that whatever I write in the first draft, will probably not stick around for the third draft. (GASP! Third draft? Oh yes, and note I didn’t say, Final Draft.) I pour out my thoughts and follow my way. However, chances are I’ve set up some little detail in the fourth chapter that is intended to be meaningful in some way, and is supposed to go off in the eighth chapter. Only by the eight chapter I’ve completely forgotten it.

So then you have to go back in and backfill all the little details.

That wasn’t even work I’d realized I would have to do, when I first started writing. I mean, you finish the first draft and you’re done, right?

So, I’ll admit, I’m a little hard on people who wait. You are waiting for the right reason. Putting this much effort in to receive what is in effect an unknowable amount of money (including zero) doesn’t sound like much fun. Writing eighty thousand words only to pour over them, slash out half, and then rewrite them, and then lather, rinse and repeat does NOT sound like a sane person’s idea of a good time.

Allow me to reassure you, however, if you can start managing your inspiration, and put in the perspiration, it gets fun. There will be parts you enjoy and parts you don’t, YMMV. I enjoy the hell out of this, which is why I have two books out. I know there are others who are just as crazy as I am, and I support you in your craziness.

And, if you’re waiting for your one percent of inspiration, just remember that that’s really all you need to get you started.