The Muse-Driven Writer vs. The Practitioner

“Write something today even if it sucks.”

I read these words at least 3 times a week. They’re printed on an 8×10 piece of paper that hangs on the door of the shared workspace for composition faculty (i.e., graduate assistants and lecturers like myself) at the local university where I teach regularly. And no matter how rushed I am or how many times I’ve see the words, I always pause for at least a millisecond to consider what they really mean.

I’ve been thinking for a few days that I wanted to write about the difference between writers who wait for inspiration to strike and those who don’t. Then yesterday, a friend posted, on Facebook, the following Chuck Close quote: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

I don’t agree with Chuck.

Inspiration, somehow or some way, is what moves all of us to write. We may have been inspired by something or someone long ago that continually drives us to be writers. It’s like the initial spark to the fire that burns in all of us. The difference is how much of firewood and air (reminders of inspiration!) we need or want to keep that fire going.

The Muse-Driven Writer

Some people will wait for inspiration to strike before they begin a writing project. This means the writer needs someone or something to rekindle that original writing spark … it could be a person who inspires you or a fresh idea or even a belief that motivates you to get writing. This can apply to any type of writing really, whether it be creative, technical, academic, etc. That’s not to say that these people don’t “work” at their writing. It’s just a different approach. Also, some writers don’t actually wait but have found ways (like listening to music or sitting in a favorite spot outside) to reignite their inspiration to get the creative juices flowing.

The problem arises, in my experience, when there’s no commitment to production. For instance, I tend to be a muse-driven writer (though I’ve been a practitioner for seasons which I’ll talk about below), but I struggle with getting words on the page. I have lots of ideas (some of my best float in with the shower steam) but not many of them get written down. Part of the problem is the general busy-ness of life, but most of it is not having goals related to my writing (i.e. commitment to production).

The Practitioner, or Practicing Writer

Other people apply the “write something today even if it sucks” mantra regardless of circumstance. These folks approach their writing as a job and dedicate a certain amount of time to it on a regular basis (daily, weekly, etc) regardless of the presence, or lack, of inspiration. They may also feel like, “I’m gonna get words on paper today if it kills me” (or is that just me?).

I’ve used the practitioner approach in the past with success on different projects. The problem here, in my experience, is that the “success” is hard fought, meaning there’s a lot of grueling work beyond just getting words on the page … in the form of revising and editing. Now, as a composition teacher, you’d think revising and editing would be my favorite thing to do (and you’d be wrong!) but we all know it’s harder to edit our own work than someone else’s, right?  But this works for some people. For instance, Stephen King, who writes 10 pages every day, is probably the most famous and most successful practitioner of writing.

But I’m not Stephen King.

To me, the routine writing requires more revision than the writing that comes from inspiration. It’s like Saul Bellows said: “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” But King’s point, I think, goes back to commitment, staying true and focused on what you’re writing.

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

Stephen King, On Writing

So whether you’re a Muse-Driven Writer or a Practitioner, you must be committed to your writing. That’s my resolution for 2015. Commitment to my writing.

How about you?

2 Comments

  1. Darlene K Campbell

    “Commitment to my writing”…I’m right there with you. Exactly how I am bringing in the new year by going to the page every day. I’m working to be more practice driven even if I only show up for 15 minutes. Remarkable essay Stephanie!

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