Perspiration or Inspiration: Which is more Important to the Writer?

100writing3Inspiration or perspiration, perspiration or inspiration, which is more important?  Is inspiration the mother of writing while perspiration is the father?  Some weeks, I am going to write a blog on a subject that I have been thinking about for many years when suddenly out of the blue, I get some crazy thought and I feel impelled to write my blog about this sudden flash of insight.  These insights might come from something I heard from someone, some bit of news, or just an impulse to write about something.  Inspiration has provided the content for about 1/3rd of my blogs.  For the other 2/3rds of my blogs, the ideas come from perspiration. I sit, sweat, read and do research on the subject.  (Here is a song to listen to as you read my blog this week:  Jeremy Secrest – HELP! I’m Writing A Book! Theme Song)

Perspiration quoteSome writers will tell you that writing is hard work and that perspiration is THE key element of the writing craft.  They will tell you how they get up every morning and sit down in front of the keyboard and start to write. It will not matter what they write as long as they write. They may grind out one or ten pages each day this week. They discipline themselves to do this day after day, week after week and year after year.  If you think about it, this will produce a prodigious amount of work.  Think 3 pages a day for 365 days and you have put out about 3 novels.  Think doing this for ten years and you have put out about 30 novels.  With good writing and a bit of luck, you just might find one of these pieces of works makes the NY Times Best Seller Lists or the Amazon Top Ten or perhaps the Oprah Book List.  Once you have broken through with your writing, you have simply to reap the benefits of recognition and acclaim.  Many writers simply become “one hit wonders” while others capitalize on a “formula” to keep churning out hit after hit.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  ― Ernest Hemingway

stephen-king-books-collectionStephen King tells the story of how and why he wrote the Bachman books.  After achieving much fame and fortune with his suspense novels, he decided to see if he could start over again and achieve popularity and success under a new name.  He published three or four books under a pseudonym as Richard Bachman.  The books (Which I enjoyed very much) were nowhere near as popular as his King novels but before he could finish his experiment, he was outed.  The books were then re-released as “The Bachman Books” by Steven King and of course, their sales skyrocketed.  Perhaps with time, King would have been able to duplicate his former success, perhaps not. I have read many works by many authors which I think should have become best sellers but did not.  Hard work and perspiration for an author does not simply transfer into major book sales.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  ― Stephen King

passion-is-your-inspiration_380x280_widthInspiration will sometimes take a writer where mere perspiration fears to tread.  In my weekly writers group, I sense that many of the authors rely a great deal on inspiration for their themes.  The idea of perspiration is anathema to some wordsmiths. Why “force” yourself to write if it is not fun or if you do not feel really excited about the idea.  According to this school of thought, writing should be a pleasure.  You do not subscribe to a weekly time frame of when to write or a quantity to write. You simply write when you feel moved by the spirit or impelled to write by the muse of writing.  Writing like this flows more naturally because it seems to come from somewhere other than the brain.  Perspiration writing is driven by intellect and discipline but inspiration writing is driven by the heart and by the soul.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  ― Maya AngelouI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

One of the most famous examples of inspiration writing must surely be Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  It was written on the back of an envelope while he was on a train going to the recent battlefield to give a testimonial to the men and women who fought and died there.  Two hundred and seventy some odd words depending on which of the four versions you read (Computers and exact copies for things were not as prevalent in 1863 as they are now) and it has become one of the most famous and well known pieces of writing in the history of humanity.  You never get tired of hearing this speech or reading it because it truly reflects the soul and spirit of this great human being.  Full of repetition and redundancy, it nevertheless achieves a magnificence that can only be attributed to the power of inspiration.  No Madison Avenue ads men or White House speech reporters had a hand in the words that Lincoln spoke that day.  We tremble in horror at the very idea.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”   ― Robert Frost

There is an entire school of inspiration writing.  Go ahead and Google the theme and you will find over 387 thousand hits on the subject. There are numerous books, programs, quotes, articles, courses and even software that will teach you how to be an “inspiration” writer.  Paradoxically, the Father of writing is much less popular. When I type in Google “perspiration writing” I am only able to find 1,090 hits on the topic.  Apparently sweating is a lot less popular as a writing motive than inspiration.

“If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then as a culture we tend to lionize the one percent.”  ― Susan Cain,

When I wrote my blogs on Immigration, I read over a dozen books on the subject before I started to write. I read pro-immigration books, anti-immigration books, history of immigration books and some textbooks on immigration law.  The result of this research was a three part series on Immigration.  I am very proud of this work.  I put a lot of time and effort into the writing in the hope that it would reflect an intelligent and actionable manuscript.  I wanted to produce a piece of writing that might help people who were thinking about this subject and wondered what we should do about it.  I even created a t-shirt that read:  “Necesitamos una política migratoria justa.  No es una política anti-inmigración.”  Translated, it means “We need a fair immigration policy. Not an anti-immigration policy.”  I wanted to express an opinion that would be understood by much of the Latino population in Arizona where I live in the winter.   (See my blog titled: My Take on Immigration – Part 1 of 3 Parts)

quit piddling and writeThere are those who would say that writing must be comprised of both inspiration and perspiration.  Writing they say is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration.  Such formulas are more easily quoted than done.  Many the author who has had a brilliant idea and then waited years for another spark of brilliance.  The great science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wrote at least 27 novels and more than 600 short stories and yet is primarily remembered for one novel:  Fahrenheit 451.  It is rare indeed for many scribes to be remembered for even one.  There is a large degree of serendipity that goes into any popularity that does not seem to be captured by effort alone.  Think of all the books that were written on the O. J. Simpson Trial.  There were over 7 thousand books dealing with various aspects of this case.  How many of them can you name or remember?  One might argue that most if not all of these tomes were written based on the sordid idea of making money.  Whether any of them were guided by pure inspiration is a question that probably cannot be answered.  Nevertheless, there is little evidence that even adding inspiration will make a successful book.  The Goddess of Success seems to be very fickle when it comes to writing.

“The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word ‘success’ – is our national disease.”  ― William James

esq-ernest-hemingway-082411-lgYou and I may never be a Hemingway or a Faulkner or a Stein or even a “best seller.”  What really matters is that we share our joys and fears with the world and bring passion and conviction to our effort.  If we can do this, then the question of inspiration or perspiration will fade away like Mc Arthur’s “Old Soldiers.”

Time for Questions:

Have you ever wanted to write something?  When will you start?  Did you write today?  Why not?  What is holding you back?

Life is just beginning.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Toni Morrison


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. enetteventer
    Jul 13, 2015 @ 12:36:41

    For my writing I think inspiration is what get’s me started but because writing a novel takes it’s toll the last bit is completely driven by perspiration.
    The deeper into my story I get the less I can trust simple inspiration.



    • johnpersico
      Jul 13, 2015 @ 12:42:46

      Thank you for the comment. I needed to do some editing. I have corrected some typos. Sorry. I think that the golden mean usually hits the truth but the issue of Fun I think must have a role in writing or we will soon burn out.

      Liked by 1 person


  2. Carolyn Wedin
    Jul 13, 2015 @ 16:38:56

    Hi, John, Nice piece! Remember the 99% perspiration still requires the 1% inspiration! The way I think of it is something like this: “To convey your inspiration on a topic effectively to a reader requires a lot of perspiration.” I don’t, btw (which Angelou had her mouth washed out with soap for using as a child, in its expanded form), agree that there is redundancy in The Gettysburg Address. And the key to the effective repetition is using word and phrase patterns, not just words.



  3. johnpersico
    Jul 13, 2015 @ 17:08:27

    Carolyn, I want to hear more about Angelou getting her mouth washed out. Tell me the story about that please next time we meet. I will be gone tomorrow but next Tuesday for sure I will be at the writers meeting.



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