inspired (or maybe not?)

There is a school of thought (school?) that says one should not wait for inspiration to strike before working on some creative project, in my case short stories. Rather, one should plug away at whatever is underway and muddle along until something gels or inspiration does strike or at least you’re not wasting your time on social media.

I’m of two minds about this. I’ve had too many stories (and even attempts at novels) go astray because I was simply plugging away at them without knowing where I needed to go. I didn’t have the big picture or the fine ending or the controlling metaphor or the overarching theme or the elusive inspiration. Or even a plot at least once. I’ve devoted a lot of time and effort to things that turned out to be frustrating dead ends. (And don’t tell me I was at least practicing the craft. I don’t think I buy that.)

So I’m reluctant to stare at a blank screen or a stuck story and try to “force” my way further. When I’m stalled, there’s a reason, and I think my job at that point is to figure out what that reason is and how it can be addressed. Neither is generally clear then. In my story “Twice Blest” I needed to come up with the “twice” part of it. (See Quality of Mercy. Note: I am by no means a Shakespeare scholar!) And I didn’t have it. I built to it, but I didn’t have the delivery. I was stalled. And no amount of fidgeting with the words was making any difference.

What I needed was some time away and some reflection. I know it sounds cliched (or at least thoroughly unreliable), but when I’m struggling with something like this, the resolution generally comes to me as an epiphany. It just dawns in my little head in some useful and (in the end frustratingly) obvious way. (Often it happens when I’m out running, far from paper and pencil.) And so it was with this story. The answer was there all along, in the notes I had been keeping for the story. I just didn’t recognize it until I started reading one of the other stories in this cycle and saw an important connection in theme (that is supposed to run through them all).

“Twice Blest” is not finished yet, but the core of it is in place. I need to plug away at it now in a way I couldn’t have allowed myself before (with an eye to the controlling metaphor business). And I’ve already turned my eyes to the next story in the cycle. I’m hoping it will be less difficult, but I’ll need to dig in to find out.

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3 Comments on “inspired (or maybe not?)”


  1. My favorite book of the year is Anthony Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. It took him 10 years to write. I’ve seen some writers say they cannot imagine taking more than a year on a book, that a rough draft should never take more than three months! I shoot for a book every three years. It allows time for ideas to become much stronger than if I just rushed through it all. It allows for the times I work longer hours than usual at the day job. And — GASP — it allows me to have a life.

    I think if all I did was write fiction that I could definitely cut my time in half. And I do find that when I sit down to write that I write — I don’t wait to be inspired. But with things like short stories or occasional sections in novels I want to write, I do the grunt work at times just to keep moving, but will not work on some sections until I know I’m ready.

    There’s something to be said for taking one’s time with fiction. Most novels I love — so many classic novels we revere — took time to write. So I don’t mind plodding along, even though I’m on a mission to wrap up a draft of the current novel soon.

  2. Paul Lamb Says:

    And your words illustrate why I could never be a participant in NaNoWriMo.


  3. Every year, friends try getting me to take part in NaNoWriMo. I’m not a fan of it and don’t see taking part, unless I ever hit a November when no other writing projects were happening and I wanted to crank out a humorous, quick novella.

    But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people working on something and then stopping so they can jump into NaNoWriMo…only to not finish NaNoWriMo and lose momentum on what they were doing. (And finding themselves burned out and not wanting to write after their NaNoWriMo attempt.)

    I know I can write faster, but with a job, life, and other things…I click along. When I’ve had time solely to write fiction, I produce, but when rewrites and other things are factored in, it’s still a book every few years for me.

    And I’m fine with that.


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