Writing Hacks: Building a Habit, Cultivating Inspiration, Finding the Muse (And Letting the Muse Find You)

Language is a technology. It’s a particularly strange one that’s made of squiggles and sounds and maps of meaning, but like any other technology, it’s hackable. So’s writing.

Here’s what W. Somerset Maugham said: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”

Except it wasn’t Maugham, it was Herman Wouk quoting William Faulkner. Or maybe it was Peter DeVries. Raymond Chandler said it too, except he put it this way: “I only write when I’m inspired. Luckily, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”

Isabelle Allende said: “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up.”

It’s hard to talk about inspiration. Maybe that’s why we have so many metaphors for whatever it is that brings an immediate sense of enthusiasm, motivation, and immediately available content to writing.

One thing that really does seem to help is installing a habit of writing at a relatively similar time every day. Even if you only write five words. Even if you only make contact with an ongoing story. Even if you freewrite for ten minutes and then get on with your day.

On a totally practical level, writing every day means you write more. It also means that whatever combination of circumstance, emotion, environment, and energy level combine to make the thing we call inspiration happen can more likely coincide with when we’re sitting (or standing at) our favorite writing instrument.

Or put another way, when you show up every day, it’s more likely the muse will find you. Personifying inspiration may be as foolish as settling on a precise definition it, but it also might help understand the elusive nature of those extraordinary moments when we feel truly touched. The muse may appear more readily when we show up, regularly, reliably, consistently.

Writing at the same (or close to the same) time every day also helps, oddly, if one has a densely packed life. Especially when writing in the morning, checkin off that daily practice of writing can open up the rest of the day. It can also get your writing mind ready for any other moments of inspiration that might spark through the course of the day. Always carry around that notebook!

Check out previous Writing Hacks!

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