Work Hard and Improve

Today I watched an interview with Stephen Moffat. He was telling the interviewer that he was rubbish. I’m not British so I may be missing some subtle shading of that phrase but I took it to be him being sincerely self deprecating. He then went on to say that the one thing that he would take credit for is working hard. He said he had to work all that much harder to overcome the fact that he was rubbish.

Creativity is a strange quality of human intelligence. It can’t be forced but it can be courted. You can’t sit around and wait for the muse to inspire you. Instead, you have to sit down and write as if you already were inspired. You have to fake it until you make it. If you are putting words on the page you are a lot more likely to write something good than you are just staring at the page. Writing is hard. You have to do whatever is necessary to get something down for a first draft. Then you read what you’ve written and decide if there is anything there that you can salvage. If so, you pull it out and work on it. If not, you just keep on writing some more.

Creativity is more about taking a different perspective on things and using your judgement to recognize when you have written something worth improving upon. The old adage that enough monkeys typing randomly on typewriters will eventually write a Shakespearean play isn’t too far from the truth. When you sit down to write, you aren’t typing randomly but otherwise the chances of any given session producing something worth pursuing is a long shot. You can improve your odds by paying attention though.

Notice the things that work for you. Perhaps you work better while listening to music. Perhaps you prefer silence or the television playing in the background. I have found that whatever I have supplying the soundtrack to my writing process is better if it isn’t too interesting. It needs to sink beneath the wave of words flowing from my subconscious onto the page.

I also find that I have times when I have lots of ideas and other times when I can’t think of a single one. So, I try and capture the ideas on lists when they are plentiful so that I can browse through them when they aren’t. Often the act of browsing those lists will inspire more new ideas to be added to the list. Remember, you have two jobs. Principally to keep a stream of words flowing onto the page but secondarily to keep the pump primed by capturing new ideas and stockpiling them.

So, the answer to the perennial question about where a writer gets their ideas, they get them from the notes that they have so laboriously taken when they were inspired. Or as Robert Heinlein, a favorite Science Fiction writer of mine, once said, There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch sometimes pronounced TANSTAAFL.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.