May 31, 2013

Inspired Writing Vs. Disciplined Writing - Shirley Williams

We're pleased to have Shirley join us today as our Guest Blogger here at InScribe Writers Online.

In writing circles there has always been the question of: Shall I write only when I’m inspired and in the mood? Or shall I discipline myself to write, whether or not I am inspired? These two methods seem to battle against each other in the artist's mind as they consider the best possible outcomes.

I once believed my writing was only effective or passionate when I was inspired or moved by an experience. I would rush home to my writing tablet or computer and write everything down that I had just experienced and felt, including the life lesson learned, etc. It was still fresh in my mind, still pumping in my veins and I had to get it out on paper to share with the rest of the world! Some of my best writing has been produced this way, because I 'stayed in the moment' with my experience and got it all down on paper. The passion or 'life of the story' was captured because it was written down immediately with all the fresh details, thoughts and emotions entailed!

In contrast, I have attended numerous writing meetings with our local writers group and have gone tired and overwhelmed (mom of autistic child) and have thought, “ I don’t think I can even participate today, I’ll just be inspired by everyone”. Lo and behold, as soon as the first writing exercise is presented, there I am along with the other ladies frantically writing and always finishing last (hoping for more time to finish my piece!) I am amazed that my fatigue melts away as I begin writing with the others and it equally surprises me, as to the quality of 'new' writing produced in a mere 10-15 minutes!

I have to laugh at myself because I have always thought that I just enjoyed writing when inspired, but from our writing class I have discovered that, “Yes, great writing can also come out of disciplined writing time.” My realization of this truth about being inspired or a disciplined artist was further validated by an article I read recently by Tchaikovsky. Though he refers to music in his letter, it can be applied to all of the arts, including writing. I hope that you find it encouraging too!

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote to his benefactress, Nadezhda von Meck, dated March 17th, 1878, (found in the 1905 volume The Life & Letters of Pete Ilich Tchaikovsky (public domain):
Do not believe those who try to persuade you that composition is only a cold exercise of the intellect. The only music capable of moving and touching us is that which flows from the depths of a composer’s soul when he is stirred by inspiration. There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavoring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.
From my own experiences of writing 'In the Mood' and writing 'Disciplined', I can say that I realize it is not an all or nothing option. I think that both can be accomplished for different types of writing. If you think about it, does it really matter how the words get down on paper; as long as they do!

Shirley Williams lives in Barrhead, Alberta, and is happily married for 22 years to her husband, Dave.  They have two grown children: Joe and Sarah.  Their son has high functioning autism.  Shirley has written for years on the subject, as well as Christian-based poems and short stories.    Shirley belongs to her local writers group and produces local video productions, both of which she enjoys very much.  She is helping her son publish his first children’s book and is working on two of her own books: Recipes for special diets and an Autism devotional. She has a College Diploma in Journalism/Radio/TV production and enjoys encouragement ministries, nature, hiking, scrapbooking and the arts!


  1. Thank-you for tackling a question I have often asked myself! I enjoyed this so much!

  2. It's true that writing comes from both inspiration and discipline. Each spursthe other on. Many artists have found that both factors produce good results. In my own experience, I've been able to create from disciplined practice as well as inspiration.

  3. I agree and I really like that Tchaikovsky quote! I've found that "just sitting down and getting at it" often produces an incredible amount of drivel and that feels like a waste of time. But there's usually some little surprise buried in all that rubble - an idea or inspiration worth pursuing or a new direction for a character.

    Thanks for the insights, Shirley.

  4. That was such a powerful quote! thanks for Your INSPIRING WORDS TOO!

  5. Shirley, So glad you joined us as Guest Blogger today.

    I enjoyed reading your posting and appreciated that inspiring quote from Tchaikovsky. I liked the idea of meeting the 'inspiration' half-way and not wait for it to arrive to begin working.

  6. Anonymous7:31 am GMT-7

    Thanks everyone. I'm glad to hear that you feel the same way about writing! That both inspired and disciplined are equally useful and important. Have a great week everyone and as my writing mentor always says: Keep your pen on the paper! Shirley Williams

  7. I have the same back-and-forth dilemma, so I ate up every word of your post and am inspired and comforted. Thanks, Shirley!

  8. Thanks for this, Shirl. I believe this is your first blog and it sounds to me like you have hit the tack with your shoe on the first whack! What you wrote resonates with me as well. We need both disciplined and inspired times to write. I remember a story about the Muse coming and you weren't there so he left.

  9. I think I have had a subconscious battle between these two ways of writing for a long time. I thought I had to choose one or the other. I can do both you say…brilliant! I almost did a happy dance to get an answer to a question I didn’t know I had. Thank you Shirley


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