Write Like You're Going to the Gym

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”

~William Faulkner


There is a marvelous interview between writers George R.R. Martin, author of the extremely

popular A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series (often referred to by the title of its first book and television adaptation, A Game of Thrones) and Stephen King, prolific author of the horror genre, amongst many other things. King is notable for his ability to consistently produce new material at an extraordinary rate, while Martin, whose material bears great detail and depth of nuance, has a much less rapid work rate. In the interview, Martin asks King directly about his process: “How the f#$% do you write so many books so fast? I think, oh, I've had a really good six months, I've written three chapters, and you've finished three books in that time!” Let's be clear on something: though it was (likely) a joke, there is nothing insignificant about Martin's rate of work, particularly given the immensity of his world-building. Martin's most notable work, A Song of Ice and Fire is a fantastical, globe-spanning, multi-viewpoint, war-epic/spythriller/ revenge tale. We may forgive Mr. Martin if it takes him a minute to hammer all of that out. In contrast, there is a precision and focus of King's writing which creates the framework for his enviable speed. His stories tend to be 'bottle stories'; that is to say, they usually take place in and around one locale (a house, a town, a high school, a cemetary), and have only a few significant characters who

are effected directly by whatever is troubling the area. There are exceptions, but this is generally his style, as well as the style of the horror genre as a whole; they are above all personal stories rather than societal stories, and while they may have ramifications for the wider world, we as readers are only really concerned with what is happening right here, right now. This isn't all there is to it, however. King resonds to Martin's question: “What I try to do is, I go out there, and I try to get six pages a day...when I'm working, I work everyday, three to four hours, and I try to get those six pages [a day], and I try to get them fairly clean [not in need of significant edits].” Let's do some math. Six pages multiplied by seven days in a week, multiplied by four weeks in a month is one-hundred and sixty-eight pages. Clean. That is to say, that at the rate he is describing, Mr. King is capable of producing a modestly-sized novella per month. Now, he does not actually do this every month, nor is it a commentary on the quality or depth of his writing. It is important further to mention that while possible, it is unlikely that Mr. King started out being able to operate at this level of speed and clarity. Rather, what I'm attempting to highlight is that Mr. King trains his writing muscles the way that body-builders train their physical muscles. In the same way that one should not expect to develop six-pack abs or sculpted biceps without consistent and calculated training, one should not expect to produce written material of a consistently high caliber or at any considerable speed without equally applying this principal to their writing. There

are of course, exceptions to this rule as well; we all know that person who has those sculpted abs no matter how little they train their muscles or how much junk food they eat. We all hate this person, don't know how they do it, and odds are, it isn't you. Such unpracticed persons however, while possibly able to produce something of worth through sheer intuition, are unlikely to know any better than you are just how they did it, nor likely to be able to replicate that process in any consistent time-frame. To come full-circle with the example, and to really drive it home: It is possible that I may very well be able to powerlift the front-end of a car if I must, but unlike a true powerlifter, it is unlikely that I will be able to do so consistently, because unlike the powerlifter, I have not consistently trained to do so. “But what about inspiration!?” What about it? To briefly swat this down: many people speak about being unable to write unless they are inspired. I agree that inspiration is a very important part of a

writer's process. But it is not a necessary one. Lots of people can write uninpiring things while being themselves, uninspired. Most law documents are not inspired; they are long, nuanced, arcane, and downright tedious. But they are done by people, who are practiced in the writing of such documents, and most importantly, they are completed in a timely manner. Why then should writing screenplays or novels or poetry operate any differently?

I am going to argue therefore that inspiration is a state of being, rather than an actionable part of the process. You do not get to decide if your work is inspiring. Inspiration is something that happens to you, that you receive from outside of yourself thorugh the works of others or the unbridled majesty of the cosmos. It is ultimately therefore, consistent practice of your work that leads to producing your work. Only then, if you're dedicated, and perhaps a little lucky, can your work or even just your workethic, inspire someone else.

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