Inspiration equals life. At least, for the writer. I say this because I believe that inspiration is a particular kind of love, and when you work from a place of love, you are alive in a way that is wholly you (because no one loves, or lives, the same). You cannot help but infuse your work with that vibrancy.
Finding inspiration really is like being hit by lightning—it is unexpected, unpredictable, but unlike a real bolt, you usually don’t have storm clouds around to warn you that it’s coming (though sometimes you do). Either way, inspiration is not a calculation. It’s a force of nature—your nature, born of an unconscious lifetime.
For the purposes of this brief note, let me say that there are two types of inspiration.
There is the inspiration of the Big Idea.
And then there is the inspiration that comes while you are writing a book.
Both are basically the same thing, but while the former might only hit you once, the latter needs to maintain a live feed from magic-land to your head, hopefully with a switch attached so that you can fire up the inspiro-engine every time you sit down to write.
This is not easy—as I’m sure you know. Writing a book, after all, in an act of endurance—both physical and mental. Finding inspiration for 90,000 or so words—or, rather, loving your story just that much, for as long as it takes you to reach the end—can be a real pain in the ass. Yet, some of us do this, over and over again. We don’t quit. We hook ourselves up to the light at the end of the tunnel.
When inspiration stops, though—when the words quit flowing—it suddenly feels as though a vacuum hose got shoved down your soul: ugly, pure and simple. Like the love died.
That’s what I call Writer’s Block: the glass wall, the glass cage, the glass heart of your story that you think will shatter, because you fear that nothing is left, you’ve reached your limit, that what you loved is now going to end on some page, and decay.
I’m not going to talk about how to get past that—not today. I don’t want to jinx myself.
Finding inspiration is a personal matter. It has to be. Everyone gets hit in a different way. But you can also encourage it. You can open the door. What comes through that door might fall flat, but let’s face it—you have to hack through a lot of rock before you strike gold.
In my case, I read a lot of non-fiction, science journals, poetry. I devour myths. I watch documentaries on television. I keep track of the news. I travel. I enjoy life. I love life.
Basically, I live. I pay attention to the world.
But that’s not much help, I know. If you’re here looking for something specific to take away, then this is what works best for me: I try to write really great first lines.
For me, there is nothing more inspiring that a good first line. You write that, and the rest flows. Write a good first line, and you’ve got your anchor. Write a really great beginning, and you’ll be aching to find out what happens next, even if you’ve got no clue. Write a good first line, and you’ll open the door to inspiration.
Here’s something else you can do. Call it a treasure chest. Write down, on slips of paper, random words. Or perhaps cut out newspaper clippings and pictures of things that interest you. Don’t make them huge—just headlines or snapshots from magazines; reminders, basically. Don’t hold back, either. The crazier the better.
And then throw them into a box. Shake and stir. Stick your hand in and pull out three to five things. Take a look at them and see what happens. Are there connections? Is there a germ of an idea in there?
If so, go for it. Or keep trying until you feel that pulse.
Whatever you do, stay open to possibilities.
In case you haven’t seen them, here are my previous entries in the virtual workshop:
Writing in the Labyrinth
Searching for Heart
Have No Fear
And be sure to check out Lynn Viehl’s contributions to Left Behind & Loving It, which is her most excellent brainchild.
~ Joseph Campbell