How To Write When You’re Not Inspired

The potential wasted in waiting for inspiration

Joe Shetina

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Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in ‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974)

Sometimes, I think of myself as Dr. Frankenstein. Awake at all hours, traipsing about my lab (my desk), tinkering with Petri dishes (adjectives), beakers (thesauruses), and dead body parts (commas), half-crazed and pulling my hair out, ignoring my friends, waiting for that spark of electricity (inspiration) to come down and create life (make the words come flowing out of me like a Yellowstone geyser and make me millions of dollars).

But inspiration isn’t really a viable — or dependable — resource. It’s fleeting, and honestly, so intangible that it might not even exist.

Working on an idea as a writer is about .5% initial inspiration, and 99.5% about having the endurance to sit there and massage that idea into something legible, let alone worthwhile.

A few years ago, when I was in my MFA program, most of my classwork involved completing full-length scripts, sometimes as many as three at once. In the summer between my first and second year, I decided to take a lesson from one of my heroes, playwright/screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks.

As explained in her book of short plays, 365 Days/365 Plays:

“The plan was that no matter what I did, how busy I was, what other commitments I had, I would write a play a day, every single day for a year. It would be about being present and being committed to the artistic process every single day, regardless of the ‘weather.’ It became a daily meditation, a daily prayer celebrating the rich and strange process of a writing life.”

— Suzan-Lori Parks

I tried this myself during the summer of 2017.

Committing to not just writing, but completing a piece every day, no matter what, was so enriching and freeing. It not only forced me to endure, but it showed me that I was capable of creating something from nothing every day, without having to worry about being inspired.

Every day, I was conquering the fear most writers struggle with: finishing.

It also proved one thing I hadn’t realized before: Inspiration is always there. But it’s not some ethereal force in the earth. It lives in you. It is a resource waiting to…

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Joe Shetina

They/he. Writer of fiction, screenplays, plays, reviews, essays, and poetry. Chicago. https://linktr.ee/jshetina