I hear a lot of talk among writers about how they find inspiration. Of course, it’s different for us all.
Some writers take in their immediate environment and process it through a creative filter that lets it out in story form. Some writers are very calculated about what they seek for inspiration because they are looking for a certain type of story, character or tone. Others, like me, feel that inspiration is an organic thing—a free-roaming vapor that floats in when the conditions are just right.
I’ve known writers who are able to harness their inspiration so well, they can actually make it work when they want to work. I’ve known more writers who have been driven half mad by that blank page staring back at them when nothing—I mean nothing—is shifting in their creative minds.
While I agree that writing is a disciplined craft, I am not among those who believe you should write every single day--unless you are one who is genuinely inspired every single day. I’ve tried this and the result has been a ton of forced, second-class written work that ended up in the bin. As inconvenient as it is, I much prefer the sudden seizure of inspiration that tends to wake me in the middle of the night or strike while I’m in the shower or sitting in traffic. These are the true thunderbolts of brilliance that I live for—the ones that are so easily lost because they come at times when it’s very difficult to capture them. It's creative cat and mouse.
I’m working on a way to tuck these flashes of wonderful away for safe keeping until I’m able to use them, but I’m not having much success. I’ve tried mnemonic methods and keeping a notepad by my bed; I’ve tried carrying around a voice recorder or jotting notes on my cell phone. So many of the great things still scurry away into the ether, never to be seen again.
I wonder where they go. Are they explorers of some sort looking for an ideal outlet? Do they try a bunch of us on before they choose the one they’ll let exploit them? Have I ever had the exact same brilliant idea at the exact same moment as another writer somewhere else in the world? Is inspiration some sort of conduit that joins us together as artists?
I have many questions, as you see, because inspiration is so very fleeting and fragile. At least it is for me. I have always felt chosen by my characters who bring their stories to me as their gift. Once they choose me, they stay—which is a good thing—but there have been many times in my writer’s life where I’ve been given a story that I wasn’t a strong enough craftsman to properly tell. I wrote them down, of course, but they were weak and basically total shit. I have boxes and boxes and files and files of this type of work in storage at my home.
As yet, the only one of these stories that chose me before I was mature enough to render it well was Arabesque. It picked me in my mid-twenties when I was still admittedly a craptacular technician. I wrote it down, anyway—even had one of my friends read it. She liked it for the most part, never complained about my lack of skill bringing the story down. She even remembered certain situational elements of it years later. And yet I felt too weak to support it when it first arrived, so I tucked it away until I was ready.
When it came back and tapped my shoulder seven years ago, it had morphed while in storage. The story made decisions without me that I had to learn as I went along. There were lots of surprises and a few unplanned character deaths, but all in all it had grown up right alongside me. We had become very compatible over those years we spent apart.
The inspiration for Arabesque originally was a character that the story weeded out of itself. I fought this at first because this character was hugely important to me and I had no plans to cut him out. But Arabesque has always had its own quiet wisdom. It’s always known what’s best for itself and who would be best to serve it. I let that beloved character go, albeit reluctantly. I even shed a tear. Soon thereafter I discovered that the story had been absolutely right about removing him.
I know many writers feel they ‘make up’ their stories, but I have never had that experience. Sure, I’ll tweak things the characters give me to put them in a more conducive order, but I’ve never questioned what they actually provide. I trust them. So far, they seem to trust me, also.
Inspiration may always be fleeting and wily, but I am very confident it will never, ever desert me. Maybe that’s why I’m not bothered when there are weeks and months with no sign of it. I know it’s still there, off doing its own due diligence to bring me the best it possibly can. I trust its process and remain its humble servant.
I look forward excitedly to every new gift it shares and always hope to be worthy of it.