About waiting for inspiration

“As writers, we don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration waits for us.” – Simon Van Booy in his Publishers & Writers essay “Craft Capsule: A Bird in the Sky.”

Long-time professional writers scoff at the notion of beginning writers sitting around waiting for inspiration. Generally, they (the professionals) say they go to the office and write every day because that’s their job; they don’t sit around waiting for inspiration.

Nothing beats a wonderful story idea that appears out of “nowhere.” But can we count on this approach to be financially successful as novelists or freelance creative nonfiction writers? My answer is no.

Louis Pasteur once said that “chance favors the prepared mind.” I think writers who think that way find more inspiration than those who don’t.

In one of my posts about magic, I said that many psychic occurrences begin when an individual relaxes and imagines that something is happening–and then, suddenly, it is happening. That is, your imagination transforms into a link that shows you the location, person, or situation you wanted to view in a so-called paranormal way.

For me, inspiration works the same way. If I find myself without any story ideas, the best thing for me to do is search the Internet (or my bookshelf) for books about subjects I love writing about. If I do this casually–without putting pressure on myself to discover an idea–and just read or poke about for the fun of it, that is when I start thinking of prospective story ideas.

Usually, the half-born idea leads to reading through more of the books or websites that made me think of my potential story until more ideas come together and then I start wondering such things as “what if a person went to this place and did ABC?” or “what if people found a way to twist this kind of information into a evil business?”

Then I set the ideas aside for an hour or so while doing something relatively mindless, from mowing the yard to playing a video game–and while I’m doing that and not worrying about the story ideas, my mind is somehow open to additional thoughts that help the story take form.

I have no idea how or why this works, but it seems better than staring at the wall and waiting for the great American novel to show up out of nowhere.

Malcolm

 

SPAM REPORT: If it’s off topic, it’s going in the trash

Spam artists–and I use that term in a pejorative way–frequently begin their comments with, “this is off topic, but have you ever considered. . . ?”

These comments do little to renew my faith in SPAM artists. I post about magical realism, and the comment is, “Great post. I’ll be checking your blog often. I know this is off topic, but I’ve discovered this great hemorrhoid medication that’s the best invention since white bread?”

Well, I’m not a fan of white bread, but I doubt that the readers of this blog care much about white bread or hemorrhoid medication. Fortunately, the WordPress spamcatcher tosses comments like this into limbo where nobody sees them.

I suspect badly programmed bots account for such inane comments and I wonder how the spammers ever get any income off such work.

Those bots don’t realize that most of us pretend hemorrhoids and other nasty diseases don’t exist and really think it’s TMI for a spammer to mention them. I guess some bloggers must be desperate for comments, so they approve SPAM in the belief it’s better than silence.

When I read through the prospective SPAM comments, I think–to put it bluntly–that 99.99% of them are crap and couldn’t possibly influence anyone to do anything. I really don’t want to know what kinds of low-life people are susceptible to it.

I guess you can tell I cleaned out the SPAM queue today and didn’t come away with a positive view of humanity.

–Malcolm

 

Why are some astonishing books less interesting when re-read?

Readers and writers often discuss whether or not they re-read books. While many of us have too many new books we want to read to spend much time re-reading old ones, the consensus is that there are usually a few comfort-food old books we enjoy multiple times.

I’ve re-read most of Isabel Allende’s books at least once, some of Pat Conroy’s bools several times, and an old Scot’s language trilogy A Scot’s Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon multiple times. Why? The reasons are mostly subjective, but usually include interesting characters, compelling plots, a fine use of language, and the likelihood of discovering something new in the story each time I go through it.

I very seldom re-read page-turner novels. They keep my attention the first time, but the plots are too linear and predictable to be interesting if I try to pick up these books a second time. Other books, many that are clever, highly inventive, and often humorous don’t seem to work for me on a second or third reading. Perhaps most of the excitement from the first reading fades away because it came from experiencing something very new, like hearing a great joke, that doesn’t work later on because I already know the punchline.

As a case in point, my favorite novel in 2006 was Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  It was well received by critics and became a bestseller. Out of fresh reading materials, I looked forward to reading it again last week. I was surprised to find myself skimming. However, I did read it to the end because I’d forgotten many of the details of a rather tangled plot.

The protagonist, Blue van Meer, is enrolled in an upscale high school for her senior year after spending the rest of her school years enrolled in one or more schools every year because her widowed father ended up with university teaching positions throughout the country. At St. Gallway School, she seemingly inadvertently comes under the wing of an eccentric film teacher and the snobbish clique of students who worship her.

The book, which mimics the syllabus of a high school or college course, is clever, inventive, philosophical, and an outstanding example of stories where nothing is what it seems to be. Blue’s erudite father is very philosophical and very opinionated about the values of the unwashed masses. While this was interesting the first time through the book, such passages became a big of a swamp the second time through. Likewise, Blue speculates about a lot of things and, while exciting when I first read the book, were a bit tedious the second time.

I still highly recommend the novel and believe that readers who enjoy something different and highly creative will have fun reading it. It failed to keep my attention the second time through because its unique approach tended–in my view–to keep it from being compelling when that unique approach was a journey I’d taken before.

I admit that my feelings about re-reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics are highly subjective and probably tell you more about me than they tell you about the book. Other readers would look at the list of books that I re-read and say they either couldn’t get through them once, much less twice. With movies, some of which I’ve watched multiple times, I often find that the ambiance of such films brings me back to them in spite of the fact I know how they end. Perhaps avid readers feel the same way about the books they read multiple times.

Some people tell me they’ve read all the books in the Harry Potter series multiple times. I’ve read them all, but have little interest in re-reading them even though I’ve seen some of the movies more than once (and enjoyably so). I recently read the Scot’s language translation of the first Harry Potter book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stane and thoroughly enjoyed it because–for a person of Scots ancestry–it was fun reading it in Scots. Could I read it again? Probably not because I enjoyed seeing a story I already knew through the eyes of the Scots translator. It can only be new once.

Likewise, Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics can only be new once, and after that an novel based on a clever approach didn’t work for me as read-it-again-and-again comfort food.

–Malcolm

Coming soon, “Lena,” the third novel in my Florida Folk Magic series.

French Open:Gorges Serena Williams to play Maria Sharapova in fourth round

The match between two of the sport’s biggest stars – with 28 Grand Slam titles between them, plus personalities and marketability which have helped them transcend tennis – was one of the most eye-catching permutations when the Roland Garros draw was made last week.

Source: French Open 2018: Serena Williams to play Maria Sharapova in fourth round – BBC Sport

What a surprise, I’m in a minority on Facebook in that I watch tennis matches, including the one this afternoon between Williams and Gorges. Williams seems to be getting stronger as the tournament goes on, but Sharapova is a tough competitor.

The older I get, the more I favor players who are “ancient” and still playing. Yet, when she entered the French Open, I thought Serena’s chances of winning the whole thing were a long shot. She’d been away a long time. But she looks good so far.

–Malcolm

What this blog is still all about

I wrote this post back in 2008. It’s still true today:

A friend asked in a recent post on her MySpace blog “How Do You Define Success?”

Clipart.com graphic

Essentially, her answer was finding the freedom to be herself and to follow her dreams. The challenge for her–for many of us–was that while following our dreams requires a measure of security and financial well-being, if we spend too much time or stress establishing that, we may not ever get to our dreams.

My answer to her question was similar to hers. Success to me is doing what I’m here to do: making an inner journey and writing about it. This blog represents my random thoughts, and a lot of yours, about the challenges we face and about the things we see along the trail.

I’m influenced, as many of you can tell, by the work of such writers as Edward Abbey and Colin Fletcher and by the dedication of volunteers in such organisations as the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy. I’m also influenced by Jane Roberts’ “Seth Books,” by the writings of Carlos Castaneda and Caroline Myss.

As we walk the trail, we learn–as Carlos was taught–that our outer journey is a reflexion of our inner journey and, conversely, that if we are impeccable in what we do in the physical world, we will be more centered within.

For me, success is being on the path and experiencing what I find there and then putting those feelings into words on the page.

What about you?

–Malcolm

 

Do You Want to Write a Series?

“A series can be great for authors because it can draw in readers and keep them. If they like your first book and its characters, they’re likely to forge ahead and buy more books in the series. This is why there are so many series out there.”

Source: So, You Want to Write a Series? – Indies Unlimited

Very helpful post for authors, beginning with whether there’s one plot that continues throughout all the books or whether a character or a setting remains the same while the plots change.

When done well, a series will make for a continuing use of a great plot or a great protagonist and engage readers for (possibly) many years.

There’s a lot to consider, and R. J. Crayton does a great job with this thorough post.

–Malcolm

Visiting the Vietnam War Memorial

“If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go.

“Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.

“And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.”

Major Michael Davis O’Donnell
Listed as KIA February 7, 1978
The Wall-USA

My wife and I see our reflections in the Vietnam War memorial last summer as I find the name of a high school classmate who died there.

I remember because it’s impossible to forget.

I remember that when Maya Lin’s design for the wall was unveiled in 1981, it generated a lot of controversy for it was nothing like any memorial the public had ever seen. I liked it immediately and was relieved when it wasn’t changed or belittled by the close placement of other statuary. The Vietnam War was nothing like any war the public had ever seen, in part because we saw it on television in our living rooms, tallied successes and failures in body counts, and reacted and ultimately protested when–after initially supporting Hồ Chí Minh’s fight against French colonial rule–the U. S. became in involved in a new North-South civil war that seemed to have no end.

The body count is displayed on this wall and cannot be ignored. The wall was dedicated in 1982 and has, in the years since, become a site that draws people to it, where people see the names of the dead whom they knew and simultaneously see themselves reflected back by the mirror finish of the black granite. The wall currently has 58,318 names on it arranged in calendar order to match their dates of death.

I finally visited the wall last June on a family trip to Washington, D.C. I knew one name on the wall, an old friend from high school. I didn’t trace the name as many people do. I couldn’t. As you can see in the photograph, Mike’s name looked back at me while I was taking the picture. Perhaps, if I read them all, I would find other names I know, but I can’t. My consciousness isn’t deep enough for such knowledge.

The wall’s impact was overwhelming.

–Malcolm