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"Rob Parnell is the World's Foremost Writing Guru" - Writers Digest Best Writers' Site - Critters #1 Best Writers' Info Site 2010 - 2011

On Inspiration

Rob Parnell

Most writers I know are quiet people. Whether they have grand aspirations or not, they tend towards a more comfortable and ordered life - one where things are predictable. It's often a good part of a writer's temperament because, well, it needs to be.

If you're going to spend at least two or three hours a day writing, you need to know that your life is dependable enough to fit those hours in.

Fact is, if your life is unpredictable, full of turmoil and you're surrounded by people and commitments that will mess with your day, then writing is probably not a good career choice for you.

As an aside, this is one of the main reasons why a 9 to 5 job doesn't help a writer - there are simply too many destructive distractions.

The ability to concentrate for long periods is a prerequisite for a career writer. But not just on the writing. A writer also need to a special gift - the ability to see a whole manuscript in his or her mind in one moment.

A whole novel, a screenplay or non fiction book - in your mind, all at the same time. This is by no means a small feat. And one that requires practice. The more you do it, the better you get.

I remember the first time it happened to me. I'd been slaving away on a fat novel for a couple of years. Reworking pieces and flipping backwards and forwards through the text, trying to work out whether that bit matched this bit - and whether there was consistency between that character and this later plot line etc...

When suddenly I saw the whole thing in my mind. The entire story arc just popped into my head - like some kind of nirvana moment.

I could literally SEE the reality of my fictional world as one, all encompassing, whole. More than that, I KNEW it - and finally understood that, unlike any kind of computer, the human brain has this amazing ability to grasp entire concepts, worlds within worlds, and vast oceans of ideas all AT THE SAME TIME.

Pretty mind blowing, I can tell you.

Since then, a small thing like visualizing a screenplay is a breeze...

A 5000 word short story no more than a chain of instantaneous synaptic events...

An article? A passing thought, a blink of an eye...

Do you have this ability yet?

If not, I'm sure it will come.

Writers often ask me about planning and templates and outlines. I think all of these things are a good idea. A lot depends on the project or on how you work. I tend to work differently depending on the project.

Novels - an outline. Screenplays - a series of notes. Other, shorter works and I generally work without a grand plan.

Outline notes can provide a good framework on which to springboard your imagination. Not everything has to be written in stone before you start.

But if you're not yet used to finishing things, then a plan can help you through the less inspired moments that will inevitably make up part of the writing process.

And, if you're one of those writers who is constantly ecstatic when you write, then remember that Friedrick Nietzsche was the same - and he had syphilis! Feeling deliriously happy when you're writing is not always a good thing...

...especially for your eventual reader.  (Again, read Nietzsche.)

Writing anything long or important is about being methodical, objective and rational. It's about this ability to see the logic and pertinence of a series of arguments (including fictional premises) that lead to a powerful, purposeful outcome, in one pure moment.

Some people regard this moment as "inspiration" - the defining time when a concept or an idea pops into your head. And writers will often then dedicate years of their life to essentially re-capturing that inspiration in book form. 

Sometimes successfully, sometimes not...

The trick is to spend as much time developing the ability to experience inspirational moments as you would on the writing proper. You have to understand that not all of your inspired moments are brilliant. Some of them are just ordinary. Many inspired moments are occurring to several thousand other writers at exactly the same time as you experience them.

(Ask any publisher about this phenomenon!)

As an ambitious writer, you need MORE inspired moments in order to compete...

The great writer simply experiences more flashes of inspiration than most wannabes. (Ask Ray Bradbury or Stephen King to confirm this!) 

The good news is that you can train your own mind to do the same by demanding it of yourself.

Every night, before you go to bed, ask your brain to give you an inspired idea by the following morning. It will do it for you.

Every day, look at the world around you with new eyes. Demand inspiration and it will come.

See connections in everything. Invent connections. Let your mind wander unfettered.

Live in the fast lane - of your mind.

And even if you crave a quiet life for your body and soul, let your mind - and awareness - soar.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"To give off light, one must endure burning." Viktor Frank

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