Inspiration Versus Perspiration

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Chapter 3 Inspiration Versus Perspiration

Let's answer this question first: Q.: Should I wait for lightning to strike? In other words, how do I get started?

A: Don't wait for inspiration. Writers work all the time and, when they're lucky, the muse joins them. Part of that work is reading, good stuff and not-so-good stuff, and watching, yes, movies, anything and everything. The reason is that to write a good story, non-fiction or fiction, we need to understand the rules of narrative: How narrative that holds the reader or watcher works its magic—with this key caveat:

If there are 12 rules, the 13th rule is "Break all the rules," but you can't break a rule until you know the rule. Here's how we'll work together: We'll read and we'll watch (yes, movies and TV). The key is this: You gotta learn to read and watch as a writer—always analyzing and creating. But in what order? And what do I mean by analyzing?

First we need to begin to understand how creativity works and how that part of our process differs from analysis.

First we need to begin to understand how creativity works and how that part of our process differs from analysis

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What I'm not going to do: I am not going to mess with your process of invention. I am not going to tell you: Here's the toolbox: Use it and you'll be a great writer. Anyone who tells you this is lying. Did you hear me LYING as Hitch says in the rom-com by the same name. See the YouTube trailer accompanying this chapter. And watch the movie: The writing is good and I'll talk about why it's good.

Those tool-box-how-to books may be able to tell you how to write formula fiction or memoir and if that's what you want to do, run, run away as fast as you can. If you want to write original, inspiring stuff that sings off the page, read on.

Here's my hope: Once I help you see the craft in a writer's or filmmaker's work, you'll never be able to read a story or watch a film the same way again.

What you need to do to understand inspiration: One simple exercise, a lesson I learned from the writer David Jauss.* Here it is:

1. On a piece of paper in long hand, write your name.

2. Now, write an alias.

Got that done?

Here's what you just learned: In that beat, that moment of dropping away into your unconscious mind to write the alias—after all, you know your name—you found the place where the invention happens. It's as simple as that.

Rule # 1: Never mess with that. That place is where your voice, your story, your inspiration come from—and it's a mysterious world that no workshop, no mentor, no reader should ever mess with. That's where the muse will find you. That's where the discovery lies.

But we need to read and watch films and tv shows with a writer's eye. What I'm going to help you to do is show you how to see how great stuff becomes GREAT stuff, show you how to read a story like a writer, watch a great movie like a writer, enjoy a terrific episode of a TV series like a writer.

But here's the key: Don't let analysis of your writing interfere with its invention.

Once you learn what I show you how to do by analyzing something great—coming in the following chapters (In Chapter 4 we'll re-watch the flick Hitch; see the assignment at the end of this chapter.) like a writer—you'll learn how to teach yourself through the analysis. That brings me to rule #2.

Rule # 2: Learn how to forget. Here's what I mean: You should never ever go back to the studying we do (except when you're editing). Why? You won't need to. The reason is that what you learn as we work together is now somewhere in your unconscious mind. When you're inventing, you need to forget. You need to write without thinking. Edit later. Editing is always a secondary task.

The free write we did in Chapter 2 "On Going Home" was one of our first experiments to help you teach your unconscious mind to invent, to discover and to do this better and more often—without analysis or judgement.

Rule # 3: Never wait for inspiration. Write, write, write. The inspiration will find you. I promise you it will—as long as you remember to FORGET. Writers who worry about the rules sit in judgment of themselves like the evil stepmother from Cinderella. The critic never lets the princess go to the ball. Kill all the critics! We hate them.

Here's a closing thought: I love the 1977 movie Annie Hall. Marshall Brickman who co-wrote the screenplay with Woody Allen said in an interview, "I have learned one thing. As Woody says, 'Showing up is 80 percent of life.'" He added and I commiserate big time: "Sometimes it's easier to hide home in bed. I've done both." So show up to that blank page and get some sleep. 

We'll talk more about sleeping to invent soon!

Assignment, or "Your mission should you choose to accept it" ...

Assignment, or "Your mission should you choose to accept it"

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 ... is to watch the rom-com flick Hitch starring the fabulous Will Smith.

Questions? Weigh in now. Answers will appear as chapters.

And the floor is always open.


*Jauss, David. "Lever of Transcendence: Contradiction and the Physics of Creativity," The Writer's Chronicle, Vol. 38, #5, p. 4.

Image: Break the rules by taakoses on deviant

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