Sunday, December 29, 2013

Inspiration? Nope. Hard work? Yes.

"There ain't no such thing as a free lunch."
– Unknown
That piece of folk wisdom occurs to me every time someone asks me what inspires me to write. They generally imply that I harbour some secret way to make the words flow easily.
I don't.
The ideas come easily through observation, experience and the people I have met through my life. But to me the word inspiration implies the universe hands the writer the story as a gift, requiring no effort and no repayment.
That's a silly fantasy.
I spent about three decades earning my living as a newspaper journalist, and never once in that time was writing anything other than plain hard work although some stories were easier to write than others.
I always preferred the immediacy of hard news. Give me a good crime or fire, and I was happy.
Explaining science or technology was interesting and fun. For some years I was fascinated by politics and the individuals who are attracted to public office, finally losing interest after witnessing so many venal and attention-seeking behaviours.
Writing the homes and gardens, family and fashion stories was hard labour. I wasn't interested, and it showed.
Sadly, I ended up doing some of the latter and even, on one hellish occasion, was sent to cover a wedding because it was held in an unusual location. Yuck. That was definitely the nadir of my newspaper career.
For those kinds of assignments, I felt the lack of "inspiration" most acutely. Devising every paragraph, every sentence, every word was as much fun as digging latrines.
None of it was ever totally easy, although the formulaic nature of journalism allowed me to become faster and more relaxed with it as the years passed.
Get this straight: Writing is a discipline. We write when we feel like it and when we don't. We shape to stories for the reader, aiming to entertain, or communicate information and ideas – most often both. That requires shaping the story in a way that is interesting and compelling.  It's not enough to just say what happens. We must say it in a way that keeps readers reading and that requires using a style of communication that is contemporary. The narrative of Charles Dickens or the outdated gender roles of science fiction novels of the 1930s no longer attract readers. Every message requires the right medium.
I have written four novels – one has been published so far – and can honestly say that it has not been easy. Writing is not something achieved through the godmotherly intervention of a muse, and most often writing for catharsis creates poor stories.
In my novels I strive to avoid the trap of formulas and clichés, striving instead for freshness and new ideas.
As a journalist I adopted a simple mantra which got a lot of use when I was stuck with repulsive assignments such as that wedding. It is: "If I don't write this, they won't pay me." Struggling with lack of interest and notes that resisted being transformed into a readable story, I silently repeated my mantra until the job was done.
It was simple, direct and, inasmuch as the paycheques kept coming, must have been effective, too.
Now that I have moved on to novel writing, my new, slightly more complex, mantra is: "Park your behind in your chair at your writing desk every day, and pretend it's glued there. Get up when you have written your day's pages."
It's as simple as that.

Ann Harvey
Champagne Book Group


Julie Eberhart Painter said...


One of the hardest lessons witers learn is that writing to chase the blues or process an issue is only helpful to the author. For the poor reader, it's boring.

HuntMode said...

Thanks for this - every is true. I am stealing both mantras. Thanks so much! HuntMode

HuntMode said...

Post Script - laughter - that should have read, "Thanks for this - every word is true. I am stealing both mantras. Thanks so much! HuntMode

P.P.S. - did we mention proofing and editing is hard work, too?! Grin.

Anonymous said...

I've mentored many newbie's who ask the same question (where stories come from.) I simple advise, "Open your eyes to the world, the events, people and human condition you see every day in the malls, the coffee shops, your family." The scenes and roots to stories are there if you just open them peepers.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Liz Fountain said...

What's that old saying about inspiration and perspiration? One of the lovely paradoxes we writers get to navigate - we (or at least I) need both.

Thanks Ann!