Writer in Residence

Do Not Wait for Inspiration

By Ken Murray

Do not wait for inspiration; that bus is on an irregular schedule.

I’ve been asked several times now what was the inspiration or vision for my recently published novel, and I often see disappointment in people’s faces when I tell them that there wasn’t any. As I wrote in an earlier post, I discovered the story by writing it. There was no grand design, much as I would have liked to have had one; it would have made things easier.

Notions of vision or inspiration, as nice as these may seem, impede more aspiring writers than they help. To stare at a blank page or blank screen and wait for inspiration is to lose time.

Get your pen moving, type a word, and don’t confuse the blink of the cursor for a wink from your mind’s eye.

I’ve grown wary of windows with nice views when writing. Nothing is gained by staring out the window. The story doesn’t happen out there. Real life happens out there, and if it’s real life you want, go out there into it, live it, and then come back and write. If you stare out the window, waiting for the story to write itself, you might end up hurling your notebook, your computer or yourself out the window, and this will likely provide no further inspiration.

There’s an exercise I like to do with my students when we meet for the first time on the first day of class. The exercise varies from time to time, but the net result is this: The students will have all written a complete draft of a very short story that they didn’t previously know of, and have done so within twenty minutes of walking through the door.

And then we’re off and running. It doesn’t matter that the story they’ve just now written isn’t the one they want to work on. What matters is that their writing mind, writing muscles, writing spirit (if you will) are up and moving, limber, and ready to move on to that other story. Sometimes the exercise of writing something very short, but whole, opens up whole new avenues of thought.

There’s a beat up post-it note that I keep. It long ago lost its stickiness, the gum subdued by dust, and the paper crinkled. On it is written: Get started, be open, keep the pen moving.

That is where I get my inspiration.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Ken Murray lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. He teaches creative writing at Haliburton School of the Arts and at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. He is a volunteer broadcaster in community radio and dabbles in several sports. Eulogy is his first novel. For more information visit http://www.kenmurray.ca.

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