Our creativity comes from what has touched, scared and stimulated us before this present moment as well as through thinking on what has never been, what could have been, and what might yet be.
We form narrative from light and shadow, wisps of smoke, whispered prayers, all in hopes that the finished product will connect with and move someone else (hopefully a lot of someones.)
Our muse, our inspirations, come from a number of places and take various processes from quick absorption, a streak of lightning, or the slower, gestating movement that rattles us to our core and takes our breath away. Sometimes the lightning strike produces the gestation, but no matter what inspires us a key aspect of a healthy writing career is to STAY inspired.
I’ve heard tons of people talk about writer’s block. Don’t have a clue how to get through it because I’ve never had it, but I think one of the reasons I haven’t is because of variety, multiple points of inspiration, and a pretty simple approach to life (kinda black and white actually, which isn’t always good but isn’t always bad either because it keeps me focused.)
So, let’s look at the various parts that feed and sustain our muse, our energy, and make our time more effective both before and after creating something new, and hopefully makes what we put ourselves through worthwhile…
It’s easy to stay inspired when you have knowledge that you’re passionate about, whether it be some aspect of the writing craft, or some aspect of what it means to be human, or the importance of stories, or a deep and abiding knowledge of human emotions. Some of it we pluck consciously from every day life, some floats up like gold-encrusted debris from our subconscious, from lessons learned that can only be learned via hindsight.
But how we come by inspiration isn’t as important as acquiring the seeds that produce more of it.
That spark of an idea that stirs something in us is always exciting. But we also get inspiration from other places and probably should. Those who wait for inspiration to strike them are happy when it does and tortured when it doesn’t. Who wants to live and create like that? We can make our own inspiration a lot of times by reading books that level us, by reading those that have before, by participating in other creative endeavors (which also bleed over into our writing in a cross-pollination sort of way!), by listening to the wind, watching the stars, letting our minds wander and by remembering what it was like to be a kid without our parents around, when the world held possibilities and not an endless, bone-crushing grind. I find inspiration in all of those things, a little every day, plus in studying beautiful and striking artwork, in playing guitar, in talking to a best friend, in listening to (and sometimes mishearing) a family member. Don’t always wait for inspiration. Breathe life until you’re about to burst so that there is always material creating itself in your subconscious.
Trust in our heart-of-hearts that what we write about matters to us and means something is incredibly important. If we don’t trust our process then it’s already standing on shaky ground. It’s easier to be inspired and find inspiration when we know deep in our gut that we’re going to find something worth saying, with characters that bleed and bond together, with dialogue that crackles, with obstacles that push our characters to their limits, and in turn, the reader.
What I’ve done to build trust in my process is to accept that nothing I ever write will be perfect, not to me, not to anybody. It takes some of the pressure off, lets me say, “Hey, I’ll just do my best and that’s all that’s required.” Then I go do my best and more often than not I’m mostly satisfied with the results.
Your muse will probably kick you in the nuts or vagina if you never let your imagination run wild and naked through the forest or bound recklessly down slick city streets. Imagination is paramount. It’s as important as the execution of a tale. It’s details, the way they’re told, the massive scope of the project, and it carries the weight of stars and land and sea. All of the greats had bucket loads of it pressing at the walls of their brains. They dipped their pen in that gushy mass of nerves and created what wasn’t there before.
When I read slush for Horror Library Vol. 4, back before I’d ever sold a story, one of the things that struck me about most of the rejected pieces was a lack of imagination. You know why? Because the majority of them would tell the same stale tale and how do you get excited about that?
We’re all given and nurture (or not) a certain volume of imagination. Those gifted with a lot must be wary that it doesn’t override the story because its easy for the very imaginative to let that fire burn away the story and diminish it. We learn through experience when we have too little or too much. Those who lack imagination are in a similar predicament, but theirs is that their work can come out too bland, bound by the constraints of what their logical, rational minds allow. We have to let go of our place in the world if we’re to let our imaginations grow. I think part of what holds us back is conditioning by parents and preachers and school systems. When we chase security it flees from us because it doesn’t exist. It’s a mirage.
There are many writers but only a handful who have truly inspired me, muses many times in their own way down dark passages and those open, lovely times that are crowded by bliss: William Faulkner, Tom Piccirilli, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Mr. Poe, Jack Cady, Greg Gifune, Robert Dunbar, Sara Gruen, Dennis Lehane, John Connolly, Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg, Clive Barker, Cormac McCarthy, John Gardner, Gary Braunbeck, Jack Ketchum, Brian Hodge, Lee Thomas, and Neil Gaiman. I’m going to dedicate my serial novel THE COLLECTED SONGS OF SONNELION to them because they are all in this, hidden between pages and crowding sentences with their undeniable mark.
So, go find those seeds that you can toss to the wind. Be patient while you work and every now and then as you toil away in your closed little world, eyes straining and heart aching, you’ll peek over your shoulder and see those seeds have taken root. What will grow? God only knows. But that’s part of the fun.