Why We Need Inspiration to Create

Waaaay back when I was young, it was rather fashionable to read various paper products, including ones that were mailed on a monthly basis. These now-alien pieces of reading material were called magazines. (I hear there are a few that still exist somewhere in a galaxy far, far away.) As a young writer, I spent a lot of time consuming ALL THE CONTENT about writing, so naturally I wanted to subscribe to a good quality writers’ magazine.

There were two major writers’ magazines — Writer’s Digest and The Writer. I subscribed to both, figuring I would see which proved the most useful and/or which I liked best and then ditch the other once I had decided. But I discovered, after a few months of each, that I didn’t particularly like either, nor did I find them all that useful.

I found myself disappointed and frustrated, without knowing quite why. These magazines seemed to cover all the bases — they talked about how to write a query to an agent and how to craft better characters, and they interviewed famous authors. Lots and lots of famous (or award-winning) authors. They seemed to have it all figured out.

And maybe that was the problem.

I was looking for something else, but I didn’t know what.

Another Option…

Then I discovered another writers’ magazine. This magazine had a much smaller circulation. Compared to those other magazines, it looked more like a glorified pamphlet. It had no special design, no fancy color images, no shiny glossy paper. Clearly a publication on a budget, it was printed on cheap matte paper in black and white with a simple illustration on the cover each month.

But inside the covers of that magazine, I found what I had been looking for. The magazine’s name was ByLine. It was edited (and published?) by a lady named Marcia Preston, who was also a writer. And the thing about ByLine was that it had a completely different mission than those two glossy mainstream magazines.

ByLine’s mission, and the central theme the staff used when choosing what articles to publish, was to inspire and encourage writers, especially new ones.

Inspire and encourage, that’s it.

Yeah, they published some pieces about craft. Yeah, they wrote about how to get published — but every article for ByLine was written through the lens of that one theme — keep going. You must keep going. Whatever you do, keep going.


Even Marcia Preston’s editor’s letters were inspiring. Sometimes I would cry over them. One time, with a particularly memorable one, I cut out a line and hung it over my desk. I took that little piece of paper with me when I moved from Minneapolis to NYC, and I hung it over my desk when I was an editor for a magazine, and I brought it home with me when that magazine folded and hung it over my desk at home.

I don’t remember its exact words now, but it was something like: “If you have a treasured manuscript, one that feels as if it’s been written with your blood, be patient, and keep working. Keep writing, and don’t lose hope. Sometimes the best dreams are the ones that take a long time to come true.”

I know she said it better, but that was the sentiment I carried around with me for so many years, for so many places.

For the years that I subscribed to ByLine, for as long as Marcia Preston was in charge, it was one of my greatest joys to open my mailbox and find a copy of that magazine in it. I always knew that by the time I got done reading it, I’d be not just ready, but eager, to get back to Work. It was a glorious feeling, every time.

(I realize, as I write this, that nothing serves that purpose for me now. What could? What regular thing could I put into place that would get me there? That would make me feel like I had a community? Figuring that out might have to be Part 2 of this post. 😉 )

But the reason I started thinking about ByLine this morning, the reason I wanted to write about it, is: I have days where, because I can’t seem to encourage myself, I don’t think I have any business encouraging you. I think, if I can’t keep myself going, if I’m getting caught up in working too much at the job that pays the bills and not taking care of myself and certainly not taking the time I need to write, how can I sit over here and tell you to do it? If I can’t light my own flame, how can I light yours?

The Purpose Served

And then, this morning, I thought of those days of reading ByLine. And how those other two magazines never did anything for me because they weren’t what I needed. Because what I needed was encouragement. What I needed was community and to see the joy of others in the thing we’re all doing. I needed the fuel of inspiration, and I wasn’t going to get it by muscling forward on my own.

Because I never quit because I didn’t want to learn. I never quit just because it was hard. I can do hard. I’m pretty good at hard, actually. As long as I know what’s in it for me. As long as there is joy in it.

I quit because I got tired. Or uncertain. Or realized that the road was long and the rewards uncertain — or nonexistent. Or I was just fucking lonely, feeling like maybe two people knew what it felt like, and even they were ten years younger.

I quit because someone would pay me money to do other things I also love right now instead of in ten years of hard work, and I didn’t have the courageous energy left over to also do this.

I quit because the joy slipped away.

And the thing is, if you’re constantly alone on your art-making journey, if there is no roadside way station where you can stop and have a drink with an old friend who says, “I hear you. I know what that’s like,” then the joy will always slip away.

ByLine was that roadside way station for me.

One of the major things that keeps me going in my day job, again and again, whenever I start to feel myself flagging, is the incredible team I work with. It’s knowing that there is a whole crew of amazing people out there who not only appreciate what I’m doing but will have my back if I need them. They will say encouraging words to me at any given moment, and they will thank me when I’ve done something great, and they will bring me along on all kinds of crazy experiences.

I don’t have that kind of team for my writing. I don’t have any kind of team for my writing. I never built it. I never knew how. I didn’t know I needed it. And I don’t have that roadside way station anymore, either. To my everlasting heartbreak, Marcia Preston sold ByLine to someone else who did a not-so-great job publishing it for a while before it went under and ceased publication entirely.

But maybe the memory of ByLine can help me sort out some new way station, some new source of inspiration for the future. And best of all, what it has also done is made me realize something about this blog that I sometimes am not too clear on: It’s worth something. That encouragement, that inspiration, that feeling that someone was cheering me on (even if occasionally looking over my shoulder critically), was exactly what I needed.

And if I needed it, then you probably do, too.

And while there might not be a ByLine magazine anymore, there is a Spunky Misfit Girl blog. And maybe, just maybe, if you get even a little bit out of this blog of what I used to get out of ByLine magazine, well, then, the effort has not been wasted.

If you leave here and feel like getting back to your chosen Work, whether it’s writing or painting or music, then that’s all that matters. If you read a post or three and feel a little stronger and better equipped to do your thing that matters, then that was worth something.

Sometimes I feel unsure whether the work I do is, and this morning ByLine magazine helped me realize that it is.

Yours is, too, and I hope someday I get to enjoy it.



The Butterfly House by Marcia Preston

Trudy’s Promise by Marcia Preston

2 thoughts on “Why We Need Inspiration to Create

    • My friend Gulpreet and I had a long discussion about whether it truly was possible to “inspire” yourself. You can motivate yourself, you can discipline yourself, you can make yourself work, but I still think everybody needs outside inspiration to help keep them going, and particularly in writing, the focus is on criticism rather than encouragement and learning. I miss that magazine still. Now I read Harvard Business Review for inspiration. >:D

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