Discuss: The Feeling of Inspiration


Yesterday I wrote about National Novel Writing Month, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. Thanks to the pressure and structure of National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been able to write many a first draft. This will be my eighth time participating, so it will be my eighth first draft of a novel that I’ve completed. Three of those novels have been completely finished, and two of them have been edited into final drafts.

Of course, these achievements are thanks only in part to the structure and pressure of National Novel Writing Month. Another huge element that goes into writing a novel — or any length of writing project — is inspiration. As I’m sure we can all attest to, inspiration does not always come when it’s called. Sometimes you spend the majority of a writing session sitting in front of your computer or notepad just waiting for words that won’t come.

But when it does come, that inspiration can be the absolute best feeling in the world. I recently found an article by Annie Dillard, in which she describes the sensation of writing without inspiration and then writing with inspiration. She says:

“The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring. It is the sensation of a stunt pilot’s turning barrel rolls, or an inchworm’s blind rearing from a stem in search of a route. At its worst, it feels like alligator wrestling, at the level of the sentence.

At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then – and only then -it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way. It is a parcel bound in ribbons and bows; it has two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you would hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk’s.”

Isn’t that just how it feels? Well, at least that’s how it feels to me. I know that I’ve had days where writing absolutely feels like alligator wrestling. You can’t get the words in line, you can’t suss out the meaning of what you want to say, and the writing just won’t come together. But her description of feeling inspired is just as apt. When you get that sought-after spark and are ready to let the words flow from your fingers or your pen, it truly does feel as though a present has been placed in front of you, only to be unwrapped.

Do you agree with Annie Dillard’s description here? If not, how would you describe the feeling of being inspired? And what makes you inspired? Is there something in particular that you turn to to be inspired? Share all thoughts in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan