The self-confining myth of inspiration by routine

Call it superstition, that ritual for good luck before you perform. I go to the same spot in our den, put on a record, light a stick of incense, hope that magic happens on the keyboard. After a time you put so much faith in your routine you start to think it can’t happen otherwise. But the mind needs tricked, the idea of inspiration needs trained, and really, whatever works for you, works.

Like our dog, I circled counter-clockwise before I sat, realized the lighter was upstairs, couldn’t light the incense. But I felt the spark of routine, whatever got released in me, that’s triggered by the muscle memory of something I’ve done a thousand times, my writing habit.

And the idea of inspiration like so many other things, that’s both a gift and a place to hide.

I used to think I needed a hook, an opening or phrase, before I could write. Like the hook was the tip of something under water and once I described the top, the rest would reveal itself.

And then for a long time it worked for me to take a short walk to get that hook. Just the act of letting go and being aware of small details allowed for whatever would come, to come. I could walk for 30 minutes and then write for 60, get a good thousand words.

I did it long hand for maybe 20 years, then dabbled in doing the same on my phone. Could I make something equally interesting by stabbing it out with my thumbs and then sending it from my cell? My routine for what I wrote with my thumbs was a lot less “art” though, my mind was used to writing text messages that way, or fast emails. Maybe it wasn’t seasoned to think I could create at a higher level, so I couldn’t.

I think we humans are really good at saying who we are and what we do, and how we do it because it’s frightening to not know: but the truth is, we don’t. It’s all for us to make up and then once we get it right, that trick has limited charges: you’ll need to find a new entry point, the passwords change every six weeks.

Or, maybe you can run your routine down and never change it, but you’ll likely create the same thing, or a copy of the last version, until you sound like you’re doing covers of your own material.

The idea that inspiration is outside of us, something we wait on to visit, won’t yield consistent results. Unfortunately, the idea that inspiration comes from within makes it even harder.

This post written in the style of one of my favorite blogger/writers Seth Godin, whom I’ve been following since 2009.

Categories: writing

Tags: , , , , , , ,

15 replies

  1. for me, it can come from anywhere, at anytime. the trick for me is to be open to whatever it is at any given moment.


    • Yes, same for me…though it doesn’t seem to come that easily, I have to coax it. And then that becomes its own funny little ritual, and I’m starting to question how much that’s real. Ah well, I’m about to try it again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. To write novels, I always had to stick to my routine. I’d have ideas outside of the routine, and I’d write them down, but the actual composition needed regularity. Inspiration, I’ve always thought, is kind of overrated, because what really gets the good stuff out is the sort of trance-like state of writing and being more in your fabricated world than in the real one.

    That’s what worked for me. For a while, anyway …

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Like our dog, I circled counter-clockwise before I sat, realized the lighter was upstairs, couldn’t light the incense.” My favorite line. We are poor beasts, at the end of the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good, have to throw something in there to catch a bite or what have you. We are poor beasts, perhaps why you and I love our dogs so much, we see ourselves in them.


  4. “You sound like you’re doing covers of your own material”
    So damned spot on. It’s been that way for weeks now.
    Your post gives me hope, perhaps. Plod through the wasteland.
    Or maybe it’s gone. Things do go; seasons and parents.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My routine, if I ever had one, has gone to hell.
    I read this yesterday on my phone. I liked it a lot. Maybe I just need to trick myself in believing in magic.



  1. The self-confining myth of inspiration by routine — William Pearse | pinklightsabre – Manuelworld

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