On writing when the inspiration doesn’t come.

Sometimes writing is hard.  The inspiration doesn’t come and even the thoughts in your brain feel trite.  The trick is pushing through it – the doing is the thing, not the intention.  Thats one of the goals of this blog for myself – writing even when it’s hard, keeping the words coming no matter what.

Today it’s been hard.  I have a lot of ideas but not a lot of brain power and nothing is geling.  I started posts on the movie musical and The Last Five Years (its a question of form as much as style), the movie Selma on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday (long story short, I think the movie was totally fair to LBJ), re-watching Rear Window (so many surprises on this viewing), and on having a baby being way more fun than I ever expected (waaay more fun).  Maybe these posts are much closer to being interesting than I imagine but for now they all seem super stale.

As we used to say in a former job of mine, the art is in the execution.  Ideas (or talk as the saying goes) are cheap – the doing of the thing is the hard part.

So I’m writing what I know right now.  That’s my favorite writing anyway – the super specific kind.  I recently read an article by the editor of the NY Times Modern Love column on what makes a good essay – and what doesn’t.  Specificity and avoiding generic words to substitute really describing something is key (along with much else).  The wife and I just read Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott’s journal of her first year with her son.  We read it together because when I tried to read it on my own I kept stopping every page or so to re-read for her as we both giggled and cried.  Each passage is visceral and urgent whether it be a situation you recognize as universally a “new baby” moment – sleeplessness, baby crying, the unavoidable occasion of getting peed on for the first time – or more often a completely surprising occurrence.

It’s proven true again and again that the more specific and personal a work is, the more universal.  It’s one of the aspects of drama, writing, storytelling that I love the best.

In fact, it’s kind of a philosophy for life.  The best way to connect with someone or people generally is to be the most honest, present and true to ourselves we can be.  My job has me interacting with – and often representing the experiences of – women, mostly, from all over the world.  Women and people I will never know and whose experiences I can never begin to honestly understand.  It can feel disingenuous on some days.  Getting super specific about who I am and what I know – the fullness but especially the limits of myself – is the only way I know how to take on the assignment.  And listening with equal specificity.  Because if I can start from an awareness that being a white, upper-middle class woman, who lives in DC, is a lesbian, a mom, and a thousand other small and big details filter my lived experience and worldview, then maybe I can start to understand what I do and don’t know about someone else’s.

I think writing can be hard then when I’m not present enough.  I remember taking art classes and hearing a teacher advise to “draw what you see.”  I remember sitting on a dock on a lake with my watercolor set and I’d see waves on the water – I drew what I thought waves looked like (you know the crescent shape) but it looked nothing like what was in front of me.  Seeing literally what was in front of me and drawing that – that was the hardest part.  Specificity – in writing or anywhere else – requires being present and honest with the moment.  And I guess that’s why I want to write this blog.  Or at least, that’s where I am right now.


One thought on “On writing when the inspiration doesn’t come.

  1. May I please, please, please quote from this blog post to my students who are so tired of me asking them to be specific in their writing? Linking being specific to being present – an acting skill that I still teach in my after school improv class – required a re-read about three times in order for me to understand but when I did it kinda blew my mind. Being specific about who you are as a way of knowing what to write was deliciously complicated and teased my brain. The way you linked knowing who you are to understanding others or not connected me to your point about oppression and intersectionality – another piece that reverberated in my truth brain. Keep writing.


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