Sunday, February 20, 2011

Inspiration Versus Plodding

So I've been reading this really great blog called Stupid Motivational Tricks, which is anything but stupid. It offers really helpful, insightful advice into academic writing. Reading it made me remember the following conversation about inspiration and plodding effort I once had. I was a beginning graduate student and I decided to discuss my doubts about my way of doing research with my professor who is a very productive research scholar. "He publishes like crazy," his colleagues say about him.

"I will never become a real scholar," I complained to him. "Other people have these brilliant flashes of inspiration, and then they just sit down and write these fantastic pieces of work. I, however, cannot do that. I sit there for weeks, writing endless plans, drawing arrows, crossing things out, writing and rewriting every sentence, rereading my quotes. Every idea takes forever to shape and then to come out passably well in writing. I'm just a plodder, not a thinker."

"Woman," he said (which is a perfectly acceptable and non-offensive form of address in Spanish.) "Nobody ever becomes a thinker unless they are a plodder first. What we do is not about inspiration. It's about back-breaking hard work."

Nowadays, I do get those flashes of inspiration that allow me to see things very clearly and come up with new ideas. These flashes are completely useless, however, unless they are accompanied by weeks and months of plodding effort. 

1 comment:

FD said...

The saying "Genius is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration," comes to mind.

I do understand though; I have this weird mental tic that if it requires effort, clearly the end product isn't going to be good enough because I struggled to produce it. But then, it 'doesn't count' as an achievement if it was easy. Yes, I have issues, how can you tell? I try to focus on the quality of end product and judge it on that, but it can be so hard to divorce myself from unhelpful thoughts about the process that produced it.