Walking the balance beam

Out there in the world of writing advice, there always seems to be just two camps.  There’s the “follow the rules” camp and the “there are no rules camp”, there’s the “let your muse guide you” camp and the “gut it out” camp, there’s the “work and practice” camp and the “indefinable art” camp.  There’s the “pants” camp and the “no pants” camp.

But that’s not really right, is it?  As with most things, these aren’t the only camps, just the loudest ones.  I mean, much as we humans love to put things in boxes, to make them clear-cut and easy to align ourselves with, real life is almost always a grey area.

The grey area I’m struggling with right now is the one between inspiration (“let your muse guide you”) and perspiration (“gut it out”).

Some people say they can only write by the light of a full moon, or in nothing but their underwear, or just on the 3rd Thursday of the month, or only at midnight with bonbons and booze.  It’s that “I’m an artiste through whom the ideas flow from on high” mentality; or, more simply put, the idea that you can’t force things.

On the other side of the scale are those who promote the philosophy of “butt in seat, fingers on the keyboard” every day, whether inspiration strikes or not.  But I challenge any of you to claim that you *really* and *truly* follow either of these practices.  Most of us fall somewhere in between, trying to capture fleeting moments of inspired imagination and corral them into our offices, out of our fingers, and onto the page.

But how?

How do we block out the mundane world – the honking horns on the street, the toilets that need to be cleaned, the siren call of the television, the need to go exercise, or a million other things clamoring for our attention – and make space for the fanciful worlds we’re struggling to create and the imaginary friends who occupy them?  Where is the line between being moved and excited about what we’re writing and laboring to hit a certain word count?  How do we balance the inspiration and the perspiration?

This morning, in that muzzy place between sleeping and waking, unwritten scenes from my novel played out in my mind.  The characters were vivid, the drama enthralling.  By the time I woke, though, they’d turned to smoke.  I chased them down the hall, trying to grasp their vapor, but by the time I had my tea and was sitting in front of my computer, they were gone.  I felt bereft, at a loss.

Ah well, so much for inspiration today.  Time to gut it out.