Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Passion and Other Circumstances

"It is a fact often observed, that men have written good verses under the inspiration of passion, who cannot write well under other circumstances."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don't you love that sweet spot of time when it's just you and the page? When just the right words are flowing, your pacing couldn't be more perfect, your characters never more alluring. You look up and notice an hour or three have passed and there in front of you is your passion manifested in black and white, something tangible. You wonder where the time went, you feel alive, maybe even a bit touched by the Muse, and dare I say, a little bit proud of yourself (good!).

But, the getting there - that's another business altogether.

We have obligations and "other circumstances," as Emerson put it. And these things take up valuable real estate on the creative mind. These things look like your job, your children and all their activities, your bills, your health, your education, a social life, sometimes your parents or others you look after, your pets. And as I've said before, these are all important obligations to mind (the non-negotiables)...but it's difficult to make the switch from the productive, responsible human being to the creative genius you're capable of being. Who's ready to search for that elusive writing sweet spot after a full day of exhausting work and other challenges? Writing yourself into that magic groove is...work! You do usually get there and remember all over again why you've been listening to your gut, heart and brain all this time about this writing thing but it wasn't without a fight.

What's your passion for writing worth?

Aside from all those obligations you really do have to tend to...the stuff that keeps you and your family alive, fed, clothed, warm, healthy and thriving...what do you need? Do you need to say "Yes, I can" every time someone outside your family circle asks for your time or could you choose the activities you're willing to put your energy into a little more selectively? Do you need to watch TV every night or could you swap out five hours of TV time for reading or writing time? Do you need to spend hours a week on all your various social media channels letting people know what you're eating, where and with whom or could you manage to use that time connecting with those around you; finding inspiration from a conversation a table down from you at a coffee shop, overheard in a thrift store or with a child?

You always have a choice of where and how you spend your time and your choices place a value on your passion for writing.

It's nearly impossible to write all the time unless you're independently wealthy (or are making a good living on your books) and have very little to no family around - and even for those who have few obligations, most can't sit to write for longer than 5 hours at a stretch. But for those of us with very busy lives, it is possible to inspire our writer's mind by paying attention to all the creative energy going on around us. Writing doesn't just take place on the page, it happens when we look at old pictures, listen to music, watch a lightning storm, take a road trip. It happens when our brains are at work, which is all the time!

Take charge of your "other circumstances" so that when it's time to connect your perspective to the page, your passion for your craft is that much easier to access.

Here's to your "good verses!"


Action: When your preparing yourself for writing, what gets you in the mood? Do you listen to music? Do you have a routine of things you must do before you sit to write? Run a few miles? Feel free to share your inspiration. Lately, I have been almost obsessively listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams. Works every time for me. Your turn!


  1. Erin, this is great timing for me, because "taking charge of other circumstances" is exactly what I've been working on. I'm beginning to wonder if writers are natural multi-passion people (after all, unless we write about the same thing over and over, we must be curious many things).

    It's very important for me, if I'm to have a successful writing day, not just to list what I need/want to do, but to prioritize that list; otherwise, the "fun" or urgent items bubble to the top and the important ones languish. It helps me to remember Heather Sellers' idea to think of writing as a lover, and we don't want to pay lip service to our love for it, to "lead it on" without ever showing that love with time and attention and work.

    Using music as writing inspiration is something I don't do often enough.

  2. One of my favorite quotes of all time is “Inspiration is for amateurs.” I believe that true passion is getting yourself going time after time, whether you feel inspired that particular day or not. Carving out that regular time to write is so critical.

    So in line with that mentality, I get myself in the mood by training myself to be ready to write at the same time every day, for an hour before I head to work. But outside of that, I find my mind running away with story ideas when reading other imaginative literature or articles about fascinating things going on in the world.

  3. Lisa, I'm a big fan of lists. I grew up with ADD, so I've trained myself over time to focus on one project at one time and it was tough, but that constant discipline, as you alluded to, Emily, has been the thing that's pulled me through in building my own practice...which is of course, the message my clients hear loud and clear. You've gotta write when you don't want to...kind of like working out.

  4. I don't have difficulty getting inspired or fitting writing into a busy schedule. It's the days where I have unstructured time of at least 5 or 6 hours that I find it hard to sit down and write. When I have those hours that I find many other things to do: tidy, work out, read, etc. So I'm still working on what to do on those afternoons where there are no plans.

  5. Capillary, I know this sounds anti-inspirational but it will save you from walking around in circles wondering what to do next. Plan the tasky stuff and plan your writing time for the day. Make your check list of what you need to do, extra credit if you put down the time you need to do it (like a schedule), and voila...you know where you're headed for the day, but you must do yourself a big favor and stick to it. Try it and let me know how it goes.


Leave your thoughts! Feel free to share with us your success stories or tips.