When I was a teenager, I wrote for myself.
I had my far off dream of publication, of course, but in the actual process of writing, I could make the world melt away and focus on nothing but the story. The middle of the night would shift into dawn and I would wonder where the time went. I wrote to distract myself from important things, like homework or errands or exams. Writing was a guilty pleasure, a delightful little crime.
Now, writing is my job. A creative job that I adore, to be sure—-but the thing about creative jobs is that they are still jobs, a task that I must now do regardless of whether or not I feel inspired. I have contractual deadlines. Writing is not a guilty pleasure, but what puts food on the table. I am no longer dating the bad boy behind my parents’ back; I am married.
And when your creative joy becomes your daily duty, it can be very tempting to fall into the Safe Zone.
The Safe Zone beckons when life gets a little chaotic. My ceiling pipe breaks, my dog needs to go to the vet, I haven’t slept well in days, and I am just so very tired, and deadlines are looming, looming, looming. I write something rushed, lazy, and uninspired. (I don’t mean, by the way, the process of writing an imperfect first draft, or the rush of raw, unabridged creativity—-imperfection precedes perfection, and those early rushed drafts are completely encouraged, because that imperfection is fueled by passion.) The Safe Zone appears when you lose your heart. When you just want to get it over with. Sometimes, I feel the temptation to turn in a story because “it’s good enough.” It’ll get me by. I forget why I write in the first place and fall into the trap of thinking that no one will notice if I take a few shortcuts.
But people always notice. That one passage you thought read a little awkward? Your readers will sense your awkwardness too. That one secondary character you were too lazy to flesh out because you just didn’t want to look at the manuscript anymore? Your readers will complain about that character feeling dull and one-dimensional. That totally half-assed, deus ex machina solution to a complicated plotline that you’re hoping your readers will just accept? They won’t.
You cannot trick your readers.
When I catch myself falling into the Safe Zone, I remind myself of why I read. I read to find That Book: you know the one, where the words vanish after the first few lines and you find yourself standing in the middle of a lush, tense, exciting world, where you hold your breath at every scene, where you marvel at the razor sharp plotting, where your heart aches for the protagonist, where it’s 3 AM and you need to read just one more chapter, where the characters and story haunt you long after you turn the last page. Where the book rings true.
I remind myself that I should always strive to write That Book. “Good enough” is never good enough. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing—a novel, short story, article—put all your heart into it, even when you’re exhausted and the urge to wing it is overwhelming. Don’t ever forget that you are trying to create something you’re proud of.
What about you guys? How do you inspire yourself when you’re tired?