Once, when I was speaking to a class of fifth graders, a student asked me, “Why do you like being a writer?”
“What makes you think I like it?” I asked her.
She looked so disappointed that I had to backtrack and say that of course I loved it, and it was a great privilege to write and all of that. Which is true. But the opposite is true, too. I don’t always love it. Sometimes, it feels like a grind.
Students love to ask me what inspires me, and I work hard to tell them what they want to hear—that my readers inspire me, or funny moments in my life, or people I have loved. But the truth is, I am most often “inspired” by my mortgage. Writing is my job.
But how sad that sounds! I’d love to be one of those Natalie Goldberg writers—limitlessly fueled by inexplicable fire, by true passion. When you feel that way, what beauty! Writing is a joy! And yet. And yet. Sometimes, it is Monday morning. Sometimes, I just want to lie in bed and listen to my daughter breathe, or lounge about on the couch all day, reading. But I have to write, because the novels do not write themselves.
And so I go to work and I try. Sometimes, the writing is awful. And sometimes it’s good. Then again, sometimes the writing is awful even when I’m feeling passionate about it.
I like to think that writing is sort of like going to the gym—I, personally, never want to do it. It is only once I’ve begun that I start to enjoy myself. And once it’s over, I’m happy. I feel better. My mind is clearer. I never, ever regret showing up to write and doing the work, even if the writing is bad. Just as I never, ever regret going to the gym, even if I have to lie down in the middle of TurboFit class (I sometimes have to do this.)
So—what inspires me?
The only thing that inspires me is the work itself. That’s it. I start, and I keep going. It doesn’t sound romantic, but I guess it is. The labor is the love.