Inspiration vs Hard Work

Today I sat for awhile trying to figure out what this blog post would be about. I even went to Twitter and a few different people tried to offer up suggestions about what I should write about. The suggestions led to the question I’m exploring today: What is the balance between inspiration and hard work in your writing?

How many miles is it until Inspiration?
How many miles is it until Inspiration?

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says that you can’t wait for your Muse to come to you. Instead you need to sit down every day and work, so that when your Muse decides to show up, she’ll know where to find you. This philosophy makes a lot of sense to me, since I know I can’t always sit around waiting on inspiration. It’s better to start working, get the words moving on the page, and wait for things to start flowing.

However, there’s another view to consider here. When I was getting read to work on this blog post, I brought up the fact that I’m supposed to be sticking to a blogging schedule. The schedule is designed around the idea I mentioned above, that you need to sit down and work regularly instead of waiting for inspiration to show up. But when I brought this up, my Twitter friend Ash said, “I would rather read something that was clearly inspired than something put out just because today is Thursday.” This leads to an interesting contradiction that I think is worth exploring. Is the “work hard every day” idea worth it if all you end up writing is crap?

Of course, everyone knows that the first draft of anything is crap. Even Ernest Hemingway said so.

The first draft of this quote was also shit.
The first draft of this quote was also shit.

But, of course, we mustn’t forget revisions. The Mythbusters proved you CAN polish a turd, so you can definitely turn your shitty first draft into something brilliant. I’ve gone through a huge amount of revisions myself, while working on Manifestation, and the final draft is in many ways unrecognizable from the first. So in the “inspiration vs hard work” debate, I’m firmly on board with the idea that you should sit down and do the hard work every day. After all, you can’t revise that shitty draft until you at least finish writing it. It’s better, in my opinion, to keep writing and get it done so that you at least have a finished product you can work on improving.

But WAIT . . . what about blog posts? I don’t know about you, but I don’t revise blog posts. When I post a poem, a short story, or an article on the blog, those things have usually gone through several drafts to get them in the best shape possible. But a regular blog post (like the one you’re reading now) is always written as a single stream of consciousness, one draft, then posted. Aside from the embarrassing typos and errors I sometimes find in a blog post, this raises another issue: If I intend for every blog post to be a single draft, does the “write a crappy first draft” idea of hard work before inspiration still work?

Not sure if this picture is relevant, or a non-sequitur.
Not sure if this picture is relevant, or a non-sequitur.

Of course, a blog post isn’t ever going to be as lovingly-crafted as a novel. I can’t be expected to put the kind of effort into a blog post as I do the book that I’ve spent two years working on. Blog posts are also free, so from a “risk vs reward” perspective, there’s not much to worry about if one blog post turns out to be crappy. The reader can move on with no real loss. (That’s not to say I don’t want my readers to have quality posts to read, but there’s certainly not as much at stake.) I also know from all the blogs I’m subscribed to that it’s easy to pick and choose which posts you want to read. I get email notifications for at least twenty blogs each week, but I probably only read maybe 1/3 of the posts that go up. Usually it involves reading the title and skimming the first paragraph to see if I’m interested in reading more. If I am, I go to the page and read the whole thing. If not, I wait for the next email and hope the post will be more interesting.

So does the combination of free content, low threshold of commitment, and rapid production of new posts excuse the occasional crappy post? In other words, is it okay to put out an uninspired post “just because it’s Thursday,” based on the hope that sitting down to work hard will get the inspiration flowing? Or does the lack of revision mean that a blog post shouldn’t go up unless there was a lot of inspiration behind it?

I’m not sure what the answer to that question is. I do know that some of my blog posts tend to be extremely popular, while others end up getting no attention at all. That could simply be because some are more interesting than others, or it might be a sign that on some days, my Muse was with me, and other days, I was just churning out a crappy first draft.

I’m curious to hear what other bloggers think about this, and whether or not you also have days you feel like you “just have to” write a blog post because it’s your scheduled day to do so. Do those posts end up coming out as shit? Do you shrug it off and remember that there’s three more blog posts coming next week, so the crappy one can be swept under the rug? Or do you actually plan out, outline, and revise your blog posts, instead of writing them as a stream of consciousness?

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12 thoughts on “Inspiration vs Hard Work”

  1. I love this. And you went looking for your inspiration, (in this case, on twitter) and I like what you created from our conversation. My blog posts are always a stream of consciousness. I hope they come across as well as this did.

  2. I have to say that I definitely admire your dedication to regular blog posting–that’s something I really have to work on myself. But I agree with the basic point of your post; we have to write on a regular basis if we are going to keep our skills sharp. One of my blogging pals describes a blog as “white magic” that can help you refine and focus your goals. Sounds good to me!

    1. Writing to stay sharp is definitely important. Though if I’m writing, say, a short story that I don’t decide to post online, I don’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks of it. Blog posts that will be seen by (on average) 50-100 people, that’s a bit different. But one way or another, I do definitely need to stick with writing on a regular basis. Otherwise my novels sit and collect dust with no progress being made.

  3. When I was blogging daily, the was more crap than not. Now having freedom to only post inspired, I am leaning more often than not that way. Writing a story requires sitting down and writing crap and inspired, because sometimes, even crap writing can prove to be an inspiration and lead to the real thing.

    1. Crap writing can definitely have a hidden gem underneath. I know I’ve had lots of times where I wrote what I felt was a really brilliant scene, but the writing itself was sloppy. Yet even before revisions, there’s a few really excellent lines that I’m really proud of. It’s just a matter of polishing everything up.

      1. And having time and motivation to polish up. There is a time to push writing hard, and time to be reflective. It is always, and probably ever will be a challenge to juggle the two.

  4. Great post. Very thought provoking and balances out the arguments for both sides. I am a muse person. I do not have the discipline to sit down at a particular time or on a particular day. I hate having to sit and bleed onto a page. I’d rather write from inspiration and polish it even more after. I have sat and just written but I find it painful rather than pleasurable and there are enough painful things in life without me making writing one of them. As far as blog posts go, my idea of regular blogging is just when I feel I have something to say. I have recently drafted 4 posts which I haven’t posted because I just wasn’t feeling them. Then in the space of less than 24 hours I’ve posted two, because I had something to say. I keep it that simple.

    1. Do you ever revise things that you “just weren’t feeling,” or do they get discarded because there wasn’t enough inspiration for them? When I write stories that I don’t feel are so good, I leave them in a drawer to collect dust. But I’ve never left a blog post in the draft folder.

      1. Some have. Or they get amalgamated into brand new ones. The current ones I intend to go back to. One of them definitely, the others may never see the light. I do usually draft a post first then return a day later with fresh eyes. Today’s was an exception.

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