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Inspiration Need Not Be a Lightning Bolt

Dallas Nicole Woodburn -- July 13, 2007

When I first started writing, it was hard. I stared at my blank computer screen, fingers poised above the keys, waiting and waiting -- hoping and hoping -- for a lightning bolt of inspiration to strike. I half-expected ideas to fall and hit me on the head like Sir Isaac Newton's famous apple. Life, as it often does, got busy. I put off writing, telling myself that I would set aside time to write as soon as I got a good idea.

Then, four years ago, I underwent surgery on both my legs. Bedridden during my recovery, I didn't know what to do with myself. I couldn't walk, so it was hard to go out anywhere. So, I moped, watched TV, read magazines. I relaxed, like my doctor told me to. After a few days, however, relaxation gets incredibly boring.

So, I started to write. It was hard. I sat on the couch, laptop computer balanced on my thighs, trying to think. I typed a few words, and then erased them. The blank computer-screen page mocked me, laughed at me, tortured me. Whatever would I write? I typed a few sentences, read them over to myself, and again erased them.

After a few fruitless hours, I was struck by a lightning bolt of sorts. No, it wasn't the perfect idea I had been searching for, but rather a truth about writing: the delete key is your worst enemy and your best friend at the same time. It can erase unnecessary words that your work is much better without -- but it can also kill brilliant ideas before they even get the chance to blossom.

I decided to give my writing a chance. I set a deadline for myself -- 500 words that very day -- and just started writing. At first, the sentences were forced and filled with cliches. Then, slowly but surely, I got sucked into my story, intrigued by my characters that were starting to become vivid and human, and I forgot I was writing at all. Perhaps inspiration isn't so much a lightning bolt as it is like surfing: it takes work to paddle out past the breakers, but once you ride a wave you forget about the work. For a few moments, you're on top of the world. You're free.

Guess what? Writing is still hard. But, ironically, once I stopped wishing for a lightning bolt and accepted that writing was hard, it became easier.

Here's a writing prompt to try:

Write a letter to your future self, predicting where you will be in five, ten, or even twenty years. What will you be doing, thinking, dreaming?