Of Inspiration, Motivation, Perspiration, and Irritation

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. –Thomas Edison

I’m about to say something that might sound wrong coming from the fingertips of a writer. Ready? Here it is: I don’t believe inspiration has so much to do with the process of creating a work of literature as I believe motivation does.

I know. I know. I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up from your keyboard.

I urge you to think about this, though. Inspiration is the stimulation of the mind, the forming of the idea. In the grand scheme of the process of creating your masterwork, the idea is only a beginning. And most of the time, it’s not a particularly good beginning. Many writers get rolling on a general idea that popped into their heads at some point and end up fully forming something completely different. Other writers tell the same story over and over again with different characters and a slightly different setting. Yet those stories still work, because it is the writer’s skill at storytelling rather than the idea itself that makes the work entertaining.

Motivation, on the other hand, is more a important force in the creative process because it’s the force that keeps the writer plugging away at the idea until completion. Many times, the external stimuli that is initially responsible for the inspiration can help fuel the motivation. Ever seen the training montage in Rocky IV and suddenly felt the desire to go work out? Ever follow up on that desire by listening to the Rocky IV soundtrack to help you fuel the desire to keep your legs moving on the treadmill? Come on, I can’t be the only one.

In any case, it is my experience that motivation is more important and, unfortunately, more difficult to summon than is inspiration. I have dozens of ideas (inspirations) for novels filed away on my hard drive in a little folder with the highly likely name of "Ideas." Yet for the past several years I have completed a first draft on exactly one of them. And I still haven’t completed the second draft of that.

I wonder what the Rocky IV soundtrack would have sounded like if Sylvester Stallone had been playing a novelist?