Book Excerpt: Inspiration

The idea of ‘inspiration,’ as it’s commonly understood, does a great deal of damage to writers. For one thing, it devalues craft, which I think is the most important part of writing It also, as I’ve cautioned before, reinforces the notion that the writer himself or herself is somehow not enough. That some special talent or knowledge or divine gift – something outside of the writer – is necessary.

What makes any discussion of inspiration so difficult is that writing is such a special, intangible, fragile process – and, at the same time, a demanding, back-breaking, often unforgiving task.

Inspiration, by its very nature, cannot be grasped or looked for, and certainly not commanded to show up. It emerges, unbidden; embedded, I believe, in the deepening layers of craft a writer develops.

I often recommend a book by George Leonard called Master to my writer clients. It’s a short, simple defense of the concept of ‘practice,’ of craft for its own sake. Leonard contends that the peaks of achievement, whether in the arts, sports, or any area of endeavor, come from a love of the day-to-day practice of the thing. Because the truth is, in any consistent endeavor, you spend most of the time not on the peaks but on the level ground, where you rarely see any noticeable improvement. If you just live for, or get pleasure from, the peaks, you never grow. Love the craft, the practice of your art, and the peaks will come.

[Excerpt of the chapter titled, ‘Inspiration,’ from Dennis Palumbo’s Writing from the Inside Out.]

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