Getting Inspired to Write


by James Scott Bell

While I am a firm believer in the adage that to be a writer it takes an iron butt, and also that a pro can’t afford to sit around waiting for the Muse, I do believe in inspiration. Just like a football team gets a locker-room speech, so the writer can use the occasional boost in motivation.

That’s why I like writing quotes. Over the years I’ve collected hundreds of them. I glance at them from time to time and, depending on my particular writing challenge of the moment, I usually find a quote that speaks to it.

Today, I thought I’d share a few of them with you, along with some annotations.

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

If you boldly risk writing a novel that might be acclaimed as great, and fail, you could succeed in writing a book that is splendid. – Leonard Bishop

You get what you dare, baby, and if you want big, you dare big. – Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop was a novelist and author of one of the first craft books I ever purchased, Dare To Be a Great Writer. I still love that book and have it sticky-noted all over the place. Here, Bishop advocates the setting of high standards. I join him in saying, Go for it! Look at your own work and assess it according to what I call “The 7 Critical Success Factors of Fiction”—plot, structure, characters, scenes, dialogue, voice, and meaning—and determine to kick each of them up a notch in your writing.

One needs natural talent, much physical energy (which calls for a strict regimen of diet and exercise), and the resilience to bounce back after the most shattering disappointment and frustration. – L. Sprague de Camp

L. Sprague de Camp was a writer from the golden age of science fiction, the America of the 1930’s, and continued writing until his death in 2000 at the age of 92. He was the author of over 120 science fiction and fantasy novels, and several hundred short stories. The kind of writer I admire, one who worked hard at his craft and kept producing pages. Why? Because if he didn’t, he didn’t eat.

Let’s talk about talent. You do need some, but in my opinion it is the least important of the attributes for writerly success. It’s taking the talent you have to the highest level you can that counts.

So does bouncing back. The writing life has myriad ways to disappoint, frustrate, and even anger you. The trick is never to take any setback lying down. Get up and keep writing.

You have to evolve a permanent set of values to serve as motivation. – Leon Uris

Leon Uris’s books have sold over 150 million copies worldwide and have been translated

Leon Uris

Leon Uris

into 29 languages. There has to be a reason for this.

Values may be the heart of it. Uris was a Marine in World War II, and thus his novels have a certain fundamental nobility. Uris’s protagonists are full of passion for justice, and often involved in wider battles for freedom. Battle Cry, Exodus, QB VII, and Trinity each reached the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

What are you most passionate beliefs? Transfer that fire to your protagonist. What would he die for? If nothing, he’s probably not that interesting.

At every significant juncture in a story, consciously look at the situation from the viewpoint of every character involved – and let each of them make the best move they can from his or her own point of view. – Stanley Schmidt

Stanley Schmidt is the science-fiction author of such books as Newton and the Quasi-Apple (1970), Lifeboat Earth (1978) and Tweedlioop (1986). From 1978 to 2012 he was the editor of Analog, the noted SF magazine. Schmidt knows story.

Here he emphasizes a key rule of the craft, that of “maximum capacity.” Every character should be in the story for a reason, and the reason must matter greatly to that character (see the previous entry). When shove comes to slap, the characters all should be thinking how they can get their licks in. Don’t ever let the opponents of the Lead operate half-heartedly, lest the readers feel cheated. Don’t ever let the allies of the Lead just “hang around.”

Take a look at your WIP and assess the drive of each major character. Now turn those into overdrive.

Keep working. Don’t wait for inspiration. Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. – Michael Crichton

The best cure for not writing is writing. The best antidote for the writing blues is writing.

Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton

The best thing to do if you can’t face the blank page or screen is . . . write!

But what about the writers block deal we’ve been talking about here at TKZ? Is that real? Only if you don’t attack it by typing or moving a pen.

You don’t have to write on the project that’s stalling you. Work on something else. Have several projects going.

Isaac Asimov had a number of typewriters around his apartment, and when he was stalled on one project he’d get up, stretch, and walk to another typewriter, with a page in it, on some completely different subject, and he’d type some more.

So if you stall on your WIP, work on something else. Anything. Write your obituary. Truly. How do you want to be remembered? This is a great way to focus the mind and get your life in order.

Journal. Talk to yourself on paper or screen.

digiorno-1Heck, you can even be creative with your grocery list. Make it a thing of beauty. Turn it into a series of mini-essays, on the questionable identity of beets, and the pleasures of DiGiorno Pizza.

Once the brain starts cooking with words you’ll be back in the flow in no time.

Do you have a favorite writing quote? Let’s hear it!

38 thoughts on “Getting Inspired to Write

  1. Excellent advice as usual, Jim. When my debut first released I emotionally crippled myself by worrying how it would be received. I froze, unable to work on my WIP. So I wrote a few flash fiction pieces, and BOOM – I pushed past the fear.

  2. My favorite is still Nora Roberts: “You can’t fix a blank page.” Getting something out there means you have something to work with. It’s ok if the something out there never sees light of day. My editor asked for some revisions to a scene and when I sent them to her, she loved them and asked how I do it. My reply:
    Stare at the screen for a while; start typing. Delete stuff, add stuff, move stuff around.

  3. Here’s my current favorite writing quote, from Ron Rash:

    ““I was almost 40 when my first book was published, and I’d been getting rejection slips and rejection slips. But ultimately, it was not about getting published. It’s about doing this thing that I feel like is part of who I am. My life would be incomplete if I weren’t doing this.”

    • Mike, that reminds me of a writer named George Bernau. who was a lawyer who almost died in a car accident. In the hospital he decided that he was going to go after being what he always wanted to be, a writer, and would never stop even if he didn’t get published. But he did.

  4. Jim, great post, as usual. And inspirational.

    I believe that I first heard the term “bum glue” in one of Clare’s posts. I love it. I thought about it a few days ago when I saw a Facebook video of supposedly unsuspecting people getting up from a park bench to the sound of fabric ripping. They walked off with a hole in their pants (and undies) to the amusement of onlookers. When the onlookers stood to leave, they were horrified to hear the same fabric-ripping-warning.

    I find constant inspiration in TKZ posts. Yesterday, we discussed why we started following TKZ (in case your ears were burning).

    Thanks for the teaching – and the inspiration.

  5. I have my own list of writing quotes, and none of these are on it – yet. So I’ll be adding them in just a second, along with something you might not have meant as a “words to live by,” but they certainly struck me that way.
    “Let’s talk about talent. You do need some, but in my opinion it is the least important of the attributes for writerly success. It’s taking the talent you have to the highest level you can that counts.” James Scott Bell

  6. I always find your posts inspiring, Jim!

    Your suggestion about writing your own obituary reminded me of a friend’s mother who had done so. In her obituary, she said she was a writer. I hadn’t heard that before, so asked her family about it. They said, “Oh, we don’t know why she put that there. She had a couple of notebooks with poems and stuff in them, but nothing, really.” I was intrigued, and asked if I could read, to see if there was anything to publish for a family keepsake, at least. “Oh, no. It’s not that important.” Well, it was important enough to her to put it into her obituary.

    Her obituary and her family’s response to it really spun my head around, because my family would probably do the same thing. “Oh, it wasn’t good enough to publish. Might just as well trash it all.” That’s when I really started getting serious about writing and getting published. Because I didn’t want to wind up with my family saying, “It’s not that important.” It really is that important. And I’m going to prove it.

  7. Thanks Jim. So needed this. It’s been one of those, “What am I thinking, I can’t write,” weeks.
    One of my favorite quotes is, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas A. Edison. I have it taped to my computer screen.

  8. Have had this one pinned in my mental bulletin board for decades:

    “The way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” — Linus Pauling.

    It has helped me from obsessing on just one plot or story idea. Because not all ideas are created equal. Some have to be chewed on and spit out.

  9. Two more from one of my favorites, Annie Dillard:

    “Write as if you are dying.”

    “If you’re going to publish a book, you probably are going to make a fool of yourself.”

    Love that last one because there is no good story possible without emotional risk, imho.

  10. I love quotes and have many favorites. Here’s one:
    “If you want to change the world pick up your pen and write.” – Martin Luther

  11. One of my favorite writer quotes is from you: “Comparison is death to a writer. Don’t look up or down. Look at the page in front of you and nail it.”–James Scott Bell

    Another is one I humbled coined: If there are no hurdles in your life, you are not running the race.

  12. “One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” — Carl Sagan

  13. These are wonderful quotes. I read all Leon Uris’ books as a teen, starting with Exodus at age 11. I never thought to look up quotes he might have said about writing. Thank you!

    Here is a quote I hold dear from a writer who taught me at a conference. He wrote in his book for me:
    “Don’t Stop Writing!” ~ James Scott Bell

    “What literature can and should do is change the people who teach the people who don’t read the books.” ~ A.S. Byatt

  14. All of these are really good. I like Nora Roberts’ quotation that Terry listed. Goes right in there with “Don’t Stop Writing!.” I read Armageddon as my introduction to Uris in eighth grade. And on from there. I’ll have to check out Bishop. Thank you as usual for a great, thought-provoking post.

  15. Good post, Jim. My husband is a newspaper reporter and he likes to quote a favorite editor (he had very few): “The sooner you start it, the sooner it’s finished.”

  16. I read Uris as a teenager, too and those books are still in my head, especially Exodus.
    Love these writing quotes. I have one over my computer: “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without words, and never stops at all.” Emily Dickinson

  17. Wonderful quotes, some I’ve never seen and will add to the ones I’ve collected for years. And I just recently finished re-reading Armageddon for about the fourth time. Having a book that holds up like that is a magnificent accomplishment.

    My own personal favorites:

    “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ~Jack London

    “If you’re going to be a writer the first essential is to just write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.” ~Louis L’Amour

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