As a writer and a writing teacher, Sarah Allen should love writing, shouldn’t she? That’s what her students assumed. But after examining her own writing habits, she realized that others often put an unobtainable expectation on writers- they expect them to love their work every day, to be perpetually inspired, to skip to their desk every day and type until they can’t any longer. But, according to Allen, this really isn’t the reality. Even someone who loves their work doesn’t love it all the time.
“On the contrary, I believe that I write because I am driven to do so—driven by a will to write. By “will,” I mean a kind of purposefulness, propensity, diligence, and determination (which, I should mention, does not lead to perfection or ease . . . unfortunately). But, I should qualify this: the will to write is not innate for me, nor is it always readily available. In fact, the common assumption that a will to write must be both innate and stem from an ever-replenishing source never ceases to surprise (and annoy) me. I’ve worked with a lot of enviably brilliant and wonderful writers…. I’ve yet to meet one who believes that she/he is innately and/or always a brilliant writer, nor have I met one who says she/he always wants to write.”
Allen identifies this expectation placed on writers as a type of character- the “inspired writer,” who writes in brilliant bursts until dawn, who creates works of art in the blink of an eye; the Hemingways and Byrons who are tortured by their gift and use it for good. But this Romantic writer, according to Allen, just isn’t real.
“The pervasiveness of this myth of the Inspired Writer and the continued celebration of her/him works against us, as writers, for we often assume that if writing does not come easily, then our writing is not good—and in turn, that we cannot be good writers.”
This idea that the inspired writer’s greatest works come without revision, according to Allen, has become quite a hindrance to real writers, who need revision and frustration and discipline to actually write. Who sometimes hate their work and want to give it all up but keep on going. Who stumble in a forest of mind-static and distractions in order to find something decent, and who have to stumble all over again when editing to make their work readable. If a writer believes that inspiration should constantly flow through their fingertips, they won’t go out and search for it. Writing is hard, and the idea that writing has to be easy all the time can keep writers from working to their fullest potential and finding any real inspiration. Allen offers this bit of advice for writers who struggle to become the “inspired writer:”
“The best piece of advice I can give you, though, is to tell the Inspired Writer to shut up and let you write. If you have to, find out about a few of your favorite writers. I guarantee that they struggle, too. If not them, try talking to your classmates and/or your teacher. Again, if they have written anything in their lives worth writing, then it took some effort to do so. And, once the insecurities are out there, so to speak, and not trapped in Pandora’s little box to drive us mad with their “what if” whispers, you may discover that there’s more to the writing process than just getting lost in branches and stumbling over roots.”