This is a topic that is very dear to me. Inspiration. See, it’s something that every artist has to struggle with, and one that many artists, especially writers, seem to think is fleeting and difficult to come by. Some think that it is a rare flower that only blossoms when the conditions are right, once or twice a year. Other’s think it is a precious stone, buried deep in the earth, that one has to work hard at digging out before it’s light can be seen. Personally, I think both of these are wrong.
Inspiration is something that all artists need, I am not going to deny this. It’s difficult, if not downright impossible, for me to write a story when there is no inspiration. However, I do not think that inspiration is something that suddenly comes upon me unbidden, or that it is something I have to work hard at. As a writer, my inspiration surrounds me all the time. I wear it, like a jacket, and reach into its deep and endless pockets to draw forth the ideas I need to write my stories.
How, you may ask, do I do this? Where did I find such a wondrous jacket?
I worked hard at it. I made it myself. I drew the material from the experiences and loves of my life and stitched them together to make this wonderful coat. I stuffed the pockets so full with memories and bits and pieces of things I’ve read or seen on TV, as well as personal experiences, that if I were to draw an idea from it once a day for the rest of my life, they would still be filled to bulging.
And the truth is, you wear such a jacket yourself. You just need to learn where the pockets are.
And I think that’s the end of that metaphor. Sorry for going all poetic there, but I was… inspired, I guess. Heh.
Over the years, reading various books on writing, two have really struck me and stick with me about the craft, and the strangest thing is that neither was really about HOW to write. These books are The Artist’s Way and Zen in the Art of Writing. If you don’t have these books, go get them now. I’ll wait.
In Zen and the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury talks a lot about loves, passions and memories. Those things that we love as children, those things that we are passionate about as adults, combined with the memories of our own lives and experiences are all the inspiration we as writers ever need. We often hear the old adage “Write what you know.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never ridden on the back of a dragon, and I don’t think that Mr. Bradbury has ever walked the sands of Mars. But the people in his books, his characters, were all based on people he knew, in some way or another. His family made it to Mars, to be the basis of many of the characters there. I have often drawn upon personality traits of people I know for characters. In fact, I am doing it deliberately for the fantasy novel I am currently writing. Family, friends, loved ones, enemies. All of them are up for grabs for use as personalities in my novels. Because, that is what I know.
Combine those with the things you love, those things that you are passionate about, and write stories that mix the two. That love and passion will show through, and people will stand up and notice.
The other side of this, and it’s something I’ve learned from Zen in the Art of Writing and from Artist’s Way, is that the story may take a while, several years in fact, to germinate. For example, I have a deep love of Role Playing Games, such as Dungeons and Dragons. I would love to write a story about that love, but what that story is I don’t yet know. I’m sure that one day I will have an idea for a character that will match this love of RPG’s and the story will appear in my head.
But what I’ve learned from Artist’s Way is that I can’t force it. If I do, it will be crap. And I will be exhausted from the effort, and other stories I try to write, unrelated, will also be crap. I need to let the flow happen. And I also need to be good to myself, and take breaks. My well, the pockets of my jacket, need time to refill, regenerate. So, I try to take time off every now and then. Not long periods, mind, a single after noon is fine. I take an Artist’s Date, as described in the book, where I do something I really enjoy and don’t think about writing at all. My mind is relxed, the well refills, and when I return to the writing, I find that the ideas just come to me. Naturally, without struggle, and in a flow, not a sudden blossoming that lasts a short period of time.
So, I use these principles of storing memories and loves, and the idea of taking breaks to refreash my mind, to keep my inspiration up, to keep the flow coming. I never want for ideas, because if I do, I know I have these tools to help me find them again.
So take my advice. Don’t wait for inspiration to happen, and don’t go digging for it as if it were hard work. Let it happen to you, let it flow, and be sure to take breaks from drinking from it, so that it can replenish itself.