Posted by on Feb 22, 2007 in inspiration | 6 Comments


A series of conversations recently has had me thinking about the subject of inspiration, and the fact that many writers have a fear, verging on the pathological, that inspiration will ‘vanish’.

I put this down to GCSE English (or O Level, if you’re old enough). Nearly every student of English literature gets told the story of Coleridge, and the ‘man from Porlock’ who interrupted him while he was writing Kubla Khan so he ‘lost’ the inspiration to finish the poem.


I think he just got fed up with it. Why not? We’ve all got unfinished fragments galore on hard drives and in notebooks, haven’t we? So when poor old S.T. was being nagged by his cronies to finish the work, I think he came up with a convenient excuse.

But it’s become the stuff of legend, that lost inspiration, and as long as we believe it happened to him, with all his genius, then we’re sure it will happen to us.


A good enough idea has one defining criterion – durability. If it slips away from you in the night, then it wasn’t good enough to start with. Let it go and find another. Often an idea fades because it needs more time to mature, or to accrete other aspects, like plot or location or voice – if we try to force it, by jamming it down on the page too early, it’s like a seedling that’s outgrown its strength, all pale and leggy and destined never too bear fruit.

Trust your subconscious. It will give back inspiration when it’s ready. Until then, get on with something else and you’ll be surprised how vigorous your good idea will be, when it finally emerges.


  1. Kay Sexton
    23rd February 2007


  2. Vanessa G
    24th February 2007

    It could also be that his mind altering habits had something to do with it. Sometimes that works counter-creatively. Ive seen it.

    I agree with your thoughts of not letting ideas cook for long enough, too… thats an important part of the process, I think.

    writing isn’t, it seems to me, just grabbing an idea and whacking it down on paper.

  3. LMD
    25th February 2007

    Very true, Kay! Writing is a complex process: part ‘inspiration,’ part ‘elbow grease.’ Long ago, I learned to think of writer’s block as nothing more than an invitation to sit quietly with the mind open to impressions, fleeting images, snatches of details. If the project doesn’t coagulate, then work on a tangential (but not totally different) part of the project.

    We can’t force the writing, but neither can we give up too easily.

    Good discussion, Kay! Thank you.

  4. Kay Sexton
    25th February 2007

    Vanessa, I’m sure his drug use was a part of the equation!

    McKenna, the balance is so important and writers have to learn to trust themselves to find it, you’re absolutely right.

  5. julie ann shapiro
    26th February 2007

    Oh, your post put fire under my toes. Ofter when I run I get new ideas and try to honor them by writing flashes. One grouping is slowly emerging a sort of anti-war, mystery of those left behind.

    Your post just lit the fire. You inspired me to hop to it. These days I’m mostly working on a novel in process, but also try to work on new flashes a couple of times a month. But now I feel the calling to do this latest installment in that series.

    Thank you!

  6. Kay Sexton
    26th February 2007

    Lovely to see you here Jules – and yes, snap to it!


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