Friday, April 16, 2010

Inspiration Vs Perspiration

Inspiration Vs Perspiration

thomas_edison Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.
     —Thomas Alva Edison

Whatever. Many of you know the story of why I call this blog “The WriteRunner”. (Hint: It’s not anything to do with Khaled Hosseini’s similar sounding novel.) I do my best writing while running (or working out). For some reason, the rhythm of the workout allows my mind to tune out and concentrate on the problems. There’s nothing to interrupt me, no cell phone, no email, nothing. It’s how I turn perspiration into inspiration.

When it comes to writing,  the above formula isn’t quite valid. There really isn’t any “work” involved in writing. (Copy editing maybe). Every sentence has to be inspired. There should not be a single “throwaway” word in your entire piece. No filler like, “then he went to the store, grabbed some chow, and then went to bed.” No! That’s uninspired. That’s when writing becomes work. The real work of writing is finding time to write. And then, of course, there’s the whole publication process, but we’ll ignore that for now.

I bring this up because yesterday I started debating whether to write or cut a planned scene. I couldn’t bring myself to write it. I’ve been telling myself lately, “if I don’t feel the scene, then the readers won’t either. If I’m not head-over-heels in love with a scene, then it’s wrong.” I even cut the scene out of my spreadsheet, but then I undid the delete. Something told me I needed the scene, but the outline I had for it sucked. Just two characters arguing. Boring.

The thing is, scenes need to matter. Arguments don’t cut it. Yes, the scene introduces a character. Yes, it shows a specific conflict and certain backstories that will be threaded throughout the book. Yes, there’s tension and setting and a bunch of stuff that I’ve mentioned in my Scene Structure series. But I didn’t want to write it. It had no Mojo.

So of course, I’m thinking about it this morning during my swim workout. (BTW, you know you’re a swimmer when you can think of anything but not drowning and maintain that thought over several laps). I looked at the scene from different angles, different points of view. Then I thought of another scene with the main POV character, where she’s motivated to hurt another character for no reason. Why? Dum dum DUM! Put her motivation into this scene! Inspiration during perspiration! Give her a goal, and to achieve that goal, she must hurt this other character. Now my characters are motivated. Done and done! This scene matters. Wheels have been set in motion. The world has changed, and nothing is the same as it was before.

Scenes are like one-way doors. (Think of an airplane hatch. Once it closes, you’re along for the ride, and you will not land back at the same airport). Every single scene in your novel must move your plot and characters to a new place, a new destination, from which they cannot escape without great effort. Words must be said that cannot be unsaid. Feelings must be hurt or otherwise altered. Actions have permanent consequences. The bullet cannot be put back in the gun.

Okay, enough rambling for today. How do you ensure that every scene changes the world? And can you turn your perspiration into inspiration?


  1. Maybe that's why I like your blog.

    I've been called a kinetic thinker. Motion = thought, thought = motion.

    I do the same thing. I write when I work out, run, drive, mow the yard, walk the dogs, whenever I'm in motion. Somehow that physical energy quiets the voices enough that I can hear what they're saying.

    This week marks the beginning of my next piece. All I have is a title. That's it. That's how I begin, that's my seed, and it's worked out so far.

    Everything kicks back to the title. If it doesn't relate, I cut it.

    I listen to my characters! They start yawning, so will the reader. I cut it.

    I only write the scenes that MUST be written. I include only characters that MUST be written. Otherwise, I cut it.

    And I don't plot to hard media. I do at first, and I use Excel and Word to get my worms digging, but once I get going, once the story's in motion, I plot in my head during my kinetic episodes.

    See, if it's not exciting enough for me to REMEMBER, it's not worth writing, and it's dang sure not worth reading.

    If I'm on your airplane, that door's not shut and the wind's whipping us all at 40,000 feet. I'll go back and rip out 50,000 words if it improves the piece and keeps me interested in the story, screw the doorway.

    Only on the final-final draft do I secure the hatch.

    - Eric

  2. I just found out recently when I was digging post holes for the fence I'm building what inspirational perspiration meant. I had my whole second act plotted, planned, written, memorized in my head. It's a good thing I haven't finished the fence yet.

  3. @Eric: Title is the last thing I write :) I write the piece then figure out what to call it. I like your approach...I've yet to master the "know what to cut" skills...I wuv my darlings too much. :(

    @Piedmont: Keep digging!

    BTW I wrote out the scene after I posted this. It came out okay, not great but not bad. It's nice and short, and serves as a nice segue/interlude into the next set of scenes.

  4. Andrew, you gotta murder your darlings. You know that bro!

    Murder Your Darlings

    Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch:

    ... If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’

    - Eric

  5. Andrew, this is an excellent post. I like your example of putting motivation into your chapter - that's an important thing for me to do, as well, but it's easier said than done for me. I also plan a lot while I'm doing other things. Laundry, cooking, walking, etc. I don't like to swim, sadly, although I'm married to a man who's half-fish.

  6. Really enjoyed this Andrew!


  7. Thanks for your comment on my blog on Friday. I had no idea someone was keeping track of all the blogfests--what a great idea. :) It really helped so that I didn't overlap dates with someone. Here's the link to mine if you'd like to post it:
    I really appreciate it. :)

  8. @Roni: I have it linked up now. Can you link to my Bad Girl Blogfest or that page of upcoming blogfests somewhere? I would appreciate it a lot :)

  9. Andrew, when I perspire I am inspired take a shower. Which, inevitably, is when I do my best thinking.

    It's always a good reminder that scenes need action, not just reaction.

  10. I've found that finding the characters' motivations helps break scene-blocks too. Nothing opens up a plot like discovering why everyone's doing what they're doing. Nicely said, good sir.


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