Inspiration or Perspiration.
Which Is Most Important?


By Susan Mary Malone, Guest Columnist
May 2013

Well, of course, we know it’s both. Anyone who has undertaken the daunting task to actually write and complete a book knows that no choice really exists. I wrote in January about Inspiration, but this one is more about her evil twin: Work.

“. . . often, that beginning breath of the gods will take you a long way. . .”




Yes, you need the initial inspiration to even talk yourself into starting. And, often, that beginning breath of the gods will take you a long way—through the opening, into the major conflicts, your oh-so-well-drawn characters jumping to life and racing around the first turn and even hopefully into the backstretch. Ah, we love that muse, and prime her in every way we can think of! We feed her with all the sweet nothings whispered into her ear, with the promise of carrots at the end of our writing day. And she always responds. At least initially.

And then, often, we run smack dab into a soft spot on the rail. Sometimes writers hit a wall but, usually, it’s more of a bogging down. Where did all that momentum go?

It jumped straight off the track and landed in the soggy infield of slaughtered dreams.

I can’t begin to recount all the stories I hear from writers regarding this. Some try to press through, floundering as if with one leg tied behind their backs. Jockey-less. That writing muscle cramped up as in a lactic-acid meltdown. So very many writers quit here altogether, or begin another book, only to at some point stop that one and begin another… I hear often, “I was so inspired, I wrote 20,000 words in nothing flat. But then the trail went cold and now I can’t write until I get another breath of it.”

“As professionals, we all know this is when the perspiration part comes in.”




Phooey! As professionals, we all know this is when the perspiration part comes in. We know all too well that while amateurs rely on inspiration, professionals know that fortitude and courage must now take over. If a deadline exists, well, we whip ourselves in the rump and spur that pony on. The feed bill has to be paid!

And I actually think this is the best-case scenario—you have no choice but to press on. Because it’s oh-so-easy to stop and bemoan the lack of inspiration to write. But that is only a trick of the mind.

I often suggest a couple of things here. The very best is to take one of your major characters out of the book and into a scenario that occurred a decade before. Or in childhood or adolescence. This piece isn’t to be included in the book, but it can be a short story you can sell down the road. Just take her away and include none of the rest of the characters, putting her into a scenario with a huge conflict. Begin writing her there and follow her where she takes you, with no attention to your prose or structure or anything, but rather, stream-of-consciousness. Not only will this cleanse your palate, but you’ll also learn something about her you can use in the book, once you get back to it.

Another is to just write something entirely different, even if it’s a response to Dear Abby. Just write.

And then, circle back to your book. Write. Take the last passage you have, and go. It may be awful. It may take your story a way you ultimately toss. None of that matters. You don’t care that this workman-like prose doesn’t have the zing of the inspired brilliance of before. That’s not the point. The point is you’re doing it.

“Somewhere, along the far turn, you’ll find yourself racing again . . .”




Somewhere, along the far turn, you’ll find yourself racing again, getting ready for the homestretch, the breath of the gods back in your face, the finish line in sight. And often, you won’t even remember when you turned back on.

Because as Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

About Susan Mary Malone:

Award-winning author and freelance editor Susan Mary Malone has five traditionally-published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories, including the newest title, What’s Wrong With My Family?, written with her brother, Dr. Gary L. Malone. More than forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. See more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at: