It is a famous adage that creativity is five percent inspiration and ninety-five percent perspiration. It is also a truth that by the time you sit down to create something the hard work is over; all that's left is the process. Every newspaper reporter knows this cold because when you get stuck writing your story it is because you didn't do enough research.
I got my inspiration for a rebuttal to Cindy about one minute after reading her column, and had the basis of the reply outlined in my mind within the hour and finally had time to sit down and write seventy-two hours later. Hardly what you might call on-the-spot writing. But when do we ever write without knowing what we are writing about? Does it count as last minute writing if I write it out all at once, even if I've spent days thinking about it? Perspiration, inspiration. A good writer knows the forms inside and out so that what you want to say comes onto the page seemingly without effort, assuming you have anything worth saying.
My favorite example of this is when I took the UC composition exam. Any student can be placed in the advanced composition class by passing the AP English exam with a score of 3 or better. It is a little known fact that you can skip the composition class altogether if you get a perfect score of five on the UC administered composition exam. With four years to get it right, I didn't plan on taking a composition class.
These exams are given for the maximum convenience of the students; that is, at nine am on a Saturday morning during the semester. My friend Jay and I both planned to take the exam at the first opportunity. Unfortunately we both completely forgot the exam until about Friday midnight and halfway through a bottle of vodka when someone else mentioned the exam in the morning. We made a pact to get there in time, and somehow we both made it, breakfast included.
When they passed out the exams, I was sure I would be finished in no time and get back to bed where I belonged. I was tired, hungover, and sleepy from breakfast. But try as I might, the three topics given simply didn't inspire me. I couldn't think of anything to say. I could write a five paragraph essay cold about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but nothing on any of the exam subjects. I put my head down to think about it.
One hour later I looked up, saw the time, and panicked. I was going to sleep the exam away! But I looked at the exam sheet again and found I was ready. I wasn't going to write on any of their topics. I just wrote whatever I felt like and did it perfectly as a five paragraph essay.
I never did take the UC composition class.
That's four hundred ninety-five words in ten minutes and fourty-three seconds. Was it worth it: Not really. It lacks a final paragraph tying together the points from the beginning or a decent explaination of why I think the comp exam is a good example of inspiration versus persperation. Since I didn't want to write anything down before I started this column to be true to the challenge, I didn't even have an outline, which I certainly made during the comp exam. I didn't spend any time writing out my little anecdotes, elaborating on them and then cutting them back until they contained only what I want to say. And I didn't have time to revise, to reconsider anything and revision is definitely part of the process, part of the persperation that makes a good piece of writing seem tossed-off and effortless.
Writing under deadline is a good exercise, but 8 minutes for 500 words is fairly absurd. Even a second page column on how Mr. Jones ran his Chevy Impala into a parked car on Front Street at 9pm last night takes at least 15 minutes to make sure you don't slander anyone while falling asleep at the keyboard. The problem with this challenge is that it assumed that the work starts when the writing starts when, in truth, the writing is the final stop, the icing on the cake, of all the hard work that has come before.
Columns by Buttercup