Inspiration is for amateurs — genius is hard work

You’ve probably heard some version of the following epigram

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.


I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.

My guess is that the first is the original version and is due to the witty Peter De Vries and the second is a restatement falsely attributed to the more famous William Faulkner. In any case, the thought is probably a sound one.

Painter Chuck Close said it this way

Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.

According to John Armstrong

Goethe’s productive genius … lay to a very large extent in his capacity for hard work, his willingness to accept (although hardly to enjoy) periods of rejection. But many of his admirers did not want to locate his genius – his creative abililty – in such strenuous and unappetising matters. They preferred a more superficial view of genius, one which could more readily be imitated.

Goethe was much annoyed by this attitude. He saw it, essentially, as a way of dealing with envy – by reducing the envied achievement to a level where its merits were easily copied. After all, it’s not hard to break rules.

According to Paul Theroux

Anthony Trollope, wrote an account of his life when he was about 60; published a year after his death in 1882, it sank his reputation.

Straightforward in talking about his method in fiction, Trollope wrote, “There are those who…think that the man who works with his imagination should allow himself to wait till—inspiration moves him. When I have heard such doctrine preached, I have hardly been able to repress my scorn. To me it would not be more absurd if the shoemaker were to wait for inspiration, or the tallow-chandler for the divine moment of melting. If the man whose business it is to write has eaten too many good things, or has drunk too much, or smoked too many cigars—as men who write sometimes will do—then his condition may be unfavourable for work; but so will be the condition of a shoemaker who has been similarly imprudent….I was once told that the surest aid to the writing of a book was a piece of cobbler’s wax on my chair. I certainly believe in the cobbler’s wax much more than the inspiration.”

This bluff paragraph anticipated the modern painter Chuck Close’s saying, “Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.” But this bum-on-seat assertion was held against Trollope and seemed to cast his work in so pedestrian a way that he went into eclipse for many years. If writing his novels was like cobbling—the reasoning went—his books could be no better than shoes. But Trollope was being his crusty self, and his defiant book represents a particular sort of no-nonsense English memoir.

According to producer Teddy Riley about lessons learned working with Michael Jackson

When it came to working. I just kind of went into ‘Michael mode’ … ‘Michael mode’ is very intense. It’s no holds barred – you just reach for the sky. You do not accept nothing less than great. And you have to be strong.


My biggest lesson, as far as learning from working with Michael – and knowing him and being a friend of his – is stay strong on what you feel is right, and stay hungry and stay humble. It will bring you a long way.


Tell me (anonymous OK)

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