Writing is five percent inspiration. The rest is brute force.

I had an idea for a TV show the other day. “New Zealand Hasn’t Got Talent”. A variety show filled with lame wannabes.

Wright_LeaningTowerBut then I turned the TV on and realised somebody pitched that before me.

Joking aside, I sometimes get the impression that writing is viewed the same way. Anybody can write and the first book will whip you up to the limelight and multi-million dollar best sellers with titles like Fifty Shades of Talent Vacuum.

The reality? Yes, sure, one or two people do that. But most don’t. For most, it’s a lot of hard work for very little return.

Plus side of that is that those hard yards turn out good writers. Anybody who can last the distance – who constantly pushes the boundaries of quality, and who knows what direction they are going in, will get there in the end. Maybe not total fame and fortune, but then, who’s in it for that anyway? I’m not.

And for those who do turn into the celebrity de jour? Well,  maybe some do have the talent and skills. But I do wonder. What they won’t have is the experience of actually hammering away at the field. And that does count.

To me, writing is more than flash-in-the-pan. It’s more than a fun pastime that happens to carry the promise of potential riches and fame. And I think people who write because they want the fame, or want the riches – well, they are writing for the wrong reasons.

I think true writers do it because they have to. Because they have an emotional journey to go on, and because they want to take readers on the journey. It is about practise, it is about learning, it is about a lot of hard work. And it’s harder still when you stir in that emotional journey. Hemingway summed it up. You sit down at the typewriter and bleed.

My take on it? Writing is five percent inspiration. The rest is brute force.

What do you figure?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

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13 comments on “Writing is five percent inspiration. The rest is brute force.

  1. “To me, writing is more than flash-in-the-pan. It’s more than a fun pastime that happens to carry the promise of potential riches and fame. And I think people who write because they want the fame, or want the riches – well, they are writing for the wrong reasons.

    I think true writers do it because they have to. Because they have an emotional journey to go on, and because they want to take readers on the journey. It is about practise, it is about learning, it is about a lot of hard work. And it’s harder still when you stir in that emotional journey. Hemingway summed it up. You sit down at the typewriter and bleed.

    My take on it? Writing is five percent inspiration. The rest is brute force.”

    I don’t think anyone could say it better than that.

    The subtitle to my blog is “Writing with Some Ink and a Hammer.” Writing is work.

    S. Thomas Summers
    Pushcart Nominated Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

    • I think we’re cut from the same cloth here. And, I have to say, not surprisingly. True writers know how hard it is – know that they have to do it anyway – and the rewards at the end when the written material comes together after thal labour are all the better for it.

  2. cheisserer says:

    I know you don’t, but sometimes I think you write things just for me. Sounds strange, but every once in a while I’m thinking about something and check my email, and see you’ve posted about it.

    You hit the nail on the head: true writers do it because they have to. Have to. I am not published. I’ve been writing for five years now. I will never stop, even if I’m never published. Even if I take all my work to the grave with me.

    If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be me. I’d be a facsimile.

    • Thank you! And good on you. I have no doubt that if you keep pushing ahead with your energy and approach, you’ll be published in the end. Yes, it takes time – I spent years trying to break in, even to the New Zealand scene – and sometimes a bit of dumb luck gets added to that mix. But work and direction have their rewards!

  3. Lemuel says:

    Most people who are determined enough to be a success in writing or television would make a lot more money if they invested that same amount of time and energy into any of many other professions. The fact they choose not to tells me that most have other reasons for doing what they do.

  4. Team Oyeniyi says:

    Definitely brute force! Maybe the balance is not quite the same in a memoir, as one has to live the drama first (no drama, why a memoir), then write about it.

    Let me see. I am up to draft four (if you exclude a lot of it was written on the web site to start with, so maybe call it draft five for parts). That is a LOT of hours of WORK on top of working full-time, 4 kids and a husband! Oh, and a website! AND trying to read other people’s website that I really enjoy.

    Friday night I worked 4 hours finishing draft four, Saturday morning I worked about 5 hours looking for agents and preparing a non-fiction proposal (the one with all the chapters listed and summarised). Hard work. So 9 hours as yet totally unpaid work after a full working week.

    Why am I doing it? Because the story needs to be told. Even if my book changes one small part of the current process, it will have been worth the effort.

    I hope.

    • Maybe living through part of the drama is itself also part of the ‘brute force’ element? I don’t draw distinction between fiction and non-fiction when it comes to writing as a human experience for the author. Even getting the experience to write about can be difficult, and I suggest it’s also a part of the writing which, certainly to me, is a ‘whole experience’. Put another way, the act of writing something down is simply a part of what is a much larger whole, all of which comes together in the written material.

      When it comes to doing that writing part, no question that the hours are long and often hard. But in the end – and as you say, if it can make even a small change, that’s worth it. Good on you – a LOT of effort, especially on top of everything else. But well worth it for all sorts of reasons. Serendipitously, it’s also possible that the story of your experiences & that of your family will touch readers in ways you may not yet know. Writing’s like that.

  5. “I think true writers do it because they have to.” I agree! I don’t think it necessarily hurt to want success as well though. I never had best-sellers and fame in mind when i started writing but at some point, you also have to put your writing out there and promote it to make sure some people will read it. So I definitely write because a strong inner force pushes me to do so, but I also wish to touch as many people as possible with my writing…

    • This is exactly why I write too. In a way, selling the writing acts to legitimise it; it helps fund it – there are costs to it, especially for some of the non-fiction which I write. And, in the end, writing is also about experiencing – it is written for readers. Good stuff.

  6. […] Writing is five percent inspiration. The rest is brute force. « M J Wright. […]

  7. judithhb says:

    I’m glad I found you and have to agree. I once watched New Zealand’s Got Talent and swiftly switched it off. I know this isn’t the theme of this post. But do you think those singers, performers sing, dance or whatever because they have to just as writers write because they have to?

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