From his book, Lyrics, by Oscar Hammerstein II:
“Any professional author will scoff at the implication that he spends his time hoping and waiting for a magic spark to start him off. There are few accidents of this kind in writing. A sudden beam of moonlight, or a thrush you have just heard, or a girl you have just kissed, or a view through your study window is seldom the source of an urge to put words on paper. Such pleasant experiences are likely to obstruct or delay a writer’s work.
“The legend of inspiration is, however, not a completely silly one. If we broaden the base of the word and let it include the stored-up memories of the writer’s emotional reactions, then inspiration figures very largely in what he puts down on paper. I suppose that every worth-while work is inspired by what has been seen or thought or felt by the writer at another time. Most bad fictional writing is the result of ignoring one’s own experiences and contriving spurious emotions for spurious characters.
“A term like ‘Inspiration’ annoys a professional author because it implies, in its common conception, that ideas and words are born in his brain as gifts from heaven and without effort. All who write know that writing is very, very hard work. Most of us do some work every day. Some get up early in the morning, as I do, and go straight to their studies as other men go to their business office. Some writers prefer working at night and work very late, but all of us are trying to write something nearly all the time. Nobody waits to be inspired. Some days the work comes easier than other days, but you keep going because the chances of getting good ideas are more likely while you are trying to get them than when you are doing nothing at all.”
I love the yin and the yang of Oscar’s reflections! On the one hand writing is “very, very hard work,” and on the other, sometimes “stored-up memories” and emotional reactions will well up and ignite creativity. But in the end, it all comes down to doing the work—freeing your mind to create and then focusing on capturing the results.
I’m sure Oscar would be the first to admit that sometimes “doing nothing at all” is exactly when inspiration strikes and “magic sparks” catch fire. But those moments usually come after intense focus. Focus and relax—that’s the way to go as we all write on!
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