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

 

My muse wants to know what I’ve done for her lately

Today at high noon, while the storm was frightening my cats,  I got an e-mail from my muse that said, “Do not forsake me, O My Darling.”

Darling? What’s that about?

I let that ride in my reply: “Say what?”

“What have you done for me lately?” she asked.

According to tradition, falling trees take precedence over writing new stuff.

According to tradition, falling trees take precedence over writing new stuff.

Well, a lot of things. I thought about writing something. I mulled over some ideas. I wondered whether or not to dream up a short story for the Harper’s Bazaar contest. And I read the kinds of books that fire up my imagination and make it more likely I’ll write something. I told her all this.

Her response was, “pfffft.”

I wanted to tell her that writers, like normal people, become preoccupied with life. We’re concerned about GMOs in our food, fellow writers who are under the weather, why Cote de Pablo is leaving “NCIS,” and whether or not the Copyright Office has heard of our books. Okay, sometimes we wonder if anyone has heard of our books, but the muse doesn’t want to hear whiny points of view like that.

Some writers say that if we don’t write every day, we’re screwed, we’re going to lose our touch, we’re not being true to our art and craft. To that, I say (as Colonel Potter said on M*A*S*H): “Horsehockey.”

On the other hand, if there’s no manuscript in progress, then chances are good there won’t be, say, a Pulitzer Prize coming in the mail next year.

Many of us go through periods of limbo when, frankly, we have nothing to say. My friend Smoky Zeidel calls these “fallow times.” I like that. We need times when we can renew ourselves.

My muse told me, “At your age, you don’t have time for fallow times.”

You really know how to hurt a guy, I thought. I didn’t say that because I was busy saying: “I thought you’d forgotten my birthday, DARLING.”  (We were now in Facebook chat mode and we all know how klugey that is.)

“Heaven’s no,” she said. “I’m sending you a dream tonight about a prospective new novel that’s going to be bigger than The Cuckoo’s Calling.”

“Please tell me it’s not a private eye story about a body that falls and/or is thrown off a balcony with a name like The Ostrich’s Calling.”

“You’ve been sticking your head in the sand too long already,” she snapped. “What I have for you is a dark Southern charmer called Rabbit on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Fortunately, I heard the storm blow a tree down across the driveway, giving me an excuse to run outside in the rain and snap a blurry photograph. I wondered though: “When a tree falls outside a writer’s house, does his muse hear it?”

Malcolm

This and That, Mostly About Books

While Georgia’s heat wave continues, I’m doing just fine when I’m inside working on short stories. The A/C can hardly keep up with temps over 90, much less over 100. As long as I’m working on my story about a Florida river, I can imagine floating in its cool waters even though “in real life,” the river is a mess due to the recent flooding from Debby.

Lately, I’ve been wondering what’s going on in the world that’s causing so many people to search on the phrase “light conquers all.”  A year-old post here on Malcolm’s Round Table about author Pat Bertram’s novel Light Bringer has been getting dozens of hits per day for about two weeks now. If you’re one of the people searching for that phrase, leave a comment and tell me what’s happening.

After reading author and artist Terri Windling’s recent post about artistic inspiration, I felt inspired to use her words as a springboard and post a few words about where authors get their ideas on my Magic Moments blog. Stop by and tell me what inspires you to write, draw, compose music or make a quilt or create a new sculpture.

Long before I was born, my father’s family lived in Fort Collins, Colorado before moving to the California coast. Because my father loved the Colorado high country, I followed in his footsteps and climbed mountains there one summer before finishing school and being summoned by “my friends” at my local draft board to join the Navy. So it is, that I watch the news about the Colorado fires, the people who have been driven out of their homes and the heroic efforts of the fire fighters with horror and awe mixed together with memories of better times. The news from the fire lines seems better at the moment.

On July 9th, author Melinda Clayton will stop by for a chat about her third novel Entangled Thorns, including why a Florida author is lured to Appalachia again and again for her stories. I enjoyed the interview!

Publisher’s Description

Beth Sloan has spent the majority of her life trying to escape the memories of a difficult childhood. Born into the infamous Pritchett family of Cedar Hollow, West Virginia, she grew up hard, surrounded not only by homemade stills and corn liquor, but by an impoverished family that more often than not preferred life on the wrong side of the law.

After the mysterious death of her brother Luke at the age of thirteen, seventeen year old Beth and her younger sister Naomi ran away from home, never to return. As the years passed, Beth suppressed the painful memories and managed to create a comfortable, if troubled, life with her husband Mark and their two children in an upscale suburb outside of Memphis, Tennessee.

But the arrival of an unwelcome letter threatens to change all that.

Against her better judgment, and at the urging of her sister Naomi, Beth agrees to return to Cedar Hollow, to the memories she’s worked so hard to forget. When old resentments and family secrets are awakened, Beth must risk everything to face the truth about what really happened to Luke that long ago summer night.

With three out of four of my novels partly set in Glacier National Park, Montana, I’m usually distressed when I read about the continued absence of funding, especially for such mundane sounding line items as infrastructure and maintenance. The good news this summer is the Glacier National Park Fund’s plan to begin an adopt-a-trail program to help pay for the upkeep on the remaining 750 miles of trails (down 250 miles since I was first there). As a member of the Fund, I heard about the plan via a letter and a brochure. The details are not yet on the Fund’s web site, but I think they will be soon.

When I write my next Montana novel, I really don’t want to hear that more trails have been abandoned due to Congress’ continued lack of support. Maybe all of us can help pick up the slack.

Otherwise, I know newspapers, websites and magazines often feature the summer’s hot reads every year about this time. What with the heat wave, I’m ready for books about snow and ice.

Malcolm

Only $4.99 on Kindle