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A common image of the writer is of someone who is suddenly struck with inspiration, like a bolt of lightning. He or she rushes to the typewriter (or these days to a keyboard, but in the old days to a roll of parchment and a quill pen) and dashes off a few perfect lines. This is the romantic idea of the poet: Wordsworth walking through daffodils, then sitting down later to pen “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” It’s a nice idea, but it’s terribly unrealistic. I’m not saying that poems or even stories never seem to happen this way—some writers do report times when writing seems this inspired, and even I have had some poems that seemed to come to me fully formed. But it can be a debilitating model to try to live up to, and even when the writing does seem to flow from the pen, I would argue that it usually does so, not only because the writer is inspired by the muse, but also because the writer has done many things prior to that experience to cultivate the muse. Look at it in another way. How often have you been inspired to write in the last year or so? When you did sit down to write, was the initial product perfect? If you’re a typical student, my guess is you answered that you wrote a few times in the past year and the writing you produced was less than perfect. Otherwise, why would you sign up for this class or buy this book? If you already write perfectly, then you should quit school, move to Hollywood, New York, or London, and seek your fortune as a screenwriter or novelist. If you’re a poet, I’m sorry to say, you’d better not seek your fortune with poetry, but if you can live on fine words alone, you can move to the mountains and subsist on air. I’m joking, of course, since very few people can make it as a writer without some serious training or at least many years of apprenticeship.
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