If you are/were a student in any sense of the word, there is no doubt you will remember this scene: the clock has reached the single digits of the early morning hours, a mug filled with coffee (or poison of choice) on the desk—no doubt the fourth installment of this liquid—eyes hesitant to blink for fear of closing permanently, and a deadline in seven hours or less. Why do we always let ourselves reach this point? There’s the usual procrastination ritual (“let’s see how long we can put off this writing assignment before it starts to scare me!”), the feeling of being overwhelmed with all sorts of other work, and of course, the lack of inspiration. More often than not, I find myself looking at the white screen of an empty Word document wondering where on earth to begin.
We are given deadlines from the earliest years of our life. In elementary school, we found it safe to assume that most of our exams or quizzes would be on Fridays, a deadline set for learning or memorizing information by the end of the week. As we progressed through our schooling, pop quizzes were instated to keep us on our toes, a way for teachers to scare us into remembering information so we could regurgitate it at any point. During high school, classes were dedicated to seeing how quickly students could write down their thoughts or create an informed essay about a topic given at the start of the class period.
I remember people complaining about this in my high school. When my eighth grade literature teacher asked us to come up with a poem in twenty minutes, we all gaped at her. “What?? Are you kidding?” seemed to be the unanimous reply. Even those of us who enjoyed writing couldn’t understand the point of having a time crunch like this. Our beef focused on the lack of time to create something good. Now creativity had a time stamp; you could only be as good as you could possibly be within a set amount of minutes. Yet this is what we became used to. With the addition of the writing option for the SAT, students were again faced with a timed opportunity to express their knowledge and originality—in five paragraph format, no less.
Writing as college English majors, we are still constrained to deadlines and word counts, but suddenly given creative licenses. Yes, we still need to write a certain amount of pages by this time next Wednesday, but as an English (or Creative Writing) major, for the most part you are given the opportunity to write about something that concerns you. Most papers, instead of having a step by step outline of what you must include in the body of your assignment, now just give a basic topic as your jumping off point, and the rest is up to you. And yet, with time constraints and word counts, are we really free to express what we need to express creatively?
Any writer will tell you that inspiration doesn’t just come at will; it’s not something you can channel and suddenly produce great writing. It usually starts with a small idea, and builds up (with any luck) to a greater argument. The trick is maintaining the growth without squelching the creativity, or losing sight of what you truly want to say. It’s harder to write your best if you’re given too many stipulations; the creative flow becomes marginalized and the true sense of the argument is lost due to the demand of requisites. We put off writing assignments with the excuse of not being properly inspired.
So how do we tackle this problem? Since there is no way to bottle inspiration for every individual, there is a deep need for personal exploration, a self-evaluation: What inspires you, and how can this be related to inspired writing? Personally, I’ve found the early morning hours helpful when it comes to honing in on the creative flow. A brisk walk outside and suddenly I have a better topic idea. Find what works for you and simply write. I will conclude once more with a challenge: regardless of the stipulations of your next assignment or writing project, just write. Write organically, without highlighting the words every couple of sentences to see if you’ve reached the word limit. If you’re stuck, try writing something for yourself first, to get the hypothetical juices flowing. Apply creativity to your everyday writing, and I’m sure you will be surprised with the result.