I don’t know about inspiration because I don’t know what inspiration is; I’ve heard about it, but I never saw it.
– William Faulkner
Society likes to tell us about the magical moment of inspiration: the moment where, after years of brooding and thinking, the creator suddenly goes to work. He writes. She paints. He draws. She sculpts. The artist, in these moments, loses himself. He creates unconsciously. It is almost if the heavens opened, almost if he doesn’t control his own hand, almost if a muse or spirit or God himself is speaking the creation into being.
We see this picture in movies, when someone creates and loses all sense of time and space and self. We read about great writers churning out drafts in three weeks. We believe it even with the holy scriptures, inspired by God, largely void of sweat and persistence and disappointment and struggle.
I would like to believe in the truth of this: in the muse that strikes and leaves at random. For then, all responsibility to create and fail is not mine; it is on the muse.
But, I cannot.
In talking with writer after writer, in reading their thoughts and struggles, I do not read of inspiration. I read about skipping fireworks on the Fourth of July to write in an abandoned library, about writing in sheds and shacks, about spending all day on a sentence, about throwing away favorite lines and passages. I read and talk and hear about the deliberate task of creation: sitting down and deciding to write.
Do not get me wrong: sometimes, when the habit has been worn like a groove in a seat, moments of inspiration come like sparrows. They flit and twitter for a time. As a reader, I lose all track of time and self. But, the next day the birds do not come. I sit with a sentence, re-writing it and fighting it for an hour or two. Then, I do something else.
This is the life of the writer, of the artist.
And we must remember this, when we talk about great art. We must remember that Mozart’s fingers were deformed by his twenty-eighth birthday, from years of composing and practicing scales. We must remember that greats like Faulkner never relied on inspiration. We must remember that holy writs came by hard work and slow composition. We must remember that we never lose ourselves in inspiration until, day after day, we have stopped all efficiency and taken time to so ineffeciently create.
For when we remember this, then we realize that we can contribute to the world of art. We realize that we can create. It is much, much less about inspiration, and much, much more about habit and routine and discipline: words that artists hide like jewelry so that no one else will infringe upon their riches.