What’s Wrong with Inspiration?

Erica Goss

Plenty, it seems. Ask any writer who’s been at the craft for awhile what inspires her and you might get this pithy answer:everything. Ornothing—“I don’t need inspiration,” says the truly advanced writer. “I can write a poem, or a story, or an essay, just by staring at the wall.”

I tell my students a version of this too. “Don’t wait around to be inspired,” I say, as if that were the most absurd and useless activity anyone could engage in. “Just start writing.” I force them to freewrite for fifteen minutes a day. I require them to collect words and sentences and make little word-pools. I give them prompts and exercises like these: write about a vegetable. Write about a bird. Copy a classic poem and change every third word to “steal.” Make a poem from food labels. Write a found poem using a pharmaceutical insert.

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