Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How Do You Get Your Inspiration?

I've recently been asked the following question a number of times: "How do you get your inspiration?"

This is a time-worn question to writers along with the well-meant-but-still-insulting, "Where do you find the time to write?" (Apparently, we writers have just so much time on our hands! It's remarkable! Yet, most novelists have demanding full-time jobs, spouses, children, pets and a wide assortment of time-sucking responsibilities to attend to just like everyone else.)

The first question is not insulting at all. It's flattering. It is the innocent and fascinated question of a person who probably reads quite a lot; who read your novel and wondered, where does she come up with this stuff? Is there an ethereal being, the revered and also feared Muse, at her beck and call? How can I get this Muse to come to my house? Does she like warm cookies and milk?

The train of thought about creativity I just described is common. In fact, it's so common that a film, a late-90s comedy, was built around this premise of the necessity of a muse. It was called, appropriately, The Muse and starred Sharon Stone as the coveted creature living in the lap of luxury thanks to an army of deluded Hollywood screenwriters and directors who vie for her magical abilities. 
But the writer who waits for the muse writes sporadically if at all. No, if you want that magic, you're going to have some butt-in-chair time, hands on the keyboard, sans fairy dust. The only way to get inspired is
to write. Yes, to carve out some time from your busy schedule as almost all writers do, waking at an ungodly hour (like I do, pre-crack-of-dawn at 4 am), or up until the wee hours if you're of the night-owl persuasion. 

This is how it works if you are so crazy as to want to write fiction:
  1. Sit at desk. Read through notes a little (no more than five minutes) to figure out where you're trying to go with this thing.
  2. Some writers now edit the prior day's work, cycling back to get into the rhythm of the story. I do this. Some prefer to just dive in. Some have outlines. Some have nothing but the seat of their pants, "pantsers" as they like to call themselves: flying along and hoping for the best.
  3. Apply fingers to keyboard and push yourself into the current character as much as you can. You will find that - wow, there is some magic - you will actually become them as you write.
  4. Muse appears on shoulder and starts whispering about what happens next.  Shocks you at times. Really? But? You want to ask, but you can't because the muse is continuing speaking, ignoring your silly questions, moving forward with the story. And you must hurry and type quickly to catch up with her.
  5. You finish the scene or section and look up, still half-dreaming, and realize hours have tripped by in what felt like minutes. That is the time-travel of creativity.
The funny thing is that if you spend enough time with your butt firmly in the chair, you'll find inspiration popping up everywhere, ideas flying at you while driving, while in the shower, while out with friends. You find yourself having to keep a pad and pen on hand at all times. Once you get that muse talking, sometimes she doesn't stop. 

Now that's magic, and it's heady stuff, but you'll never get it waiting for it to show up. You have to do the hard time, the time sitting and working without that fleeting mythic creature, caring enough about the story to do it on your own.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post and so true! I've yet to experience the part where the muse won't shut up tho...