People who know me have heard this before, in one form or another: being a hard worker is better than being talented.
But today, I’d like to focus on a slightly different aspect: inspiration. I was having a conversation on Twitter with someone who insisted that he was stuck replanning his next project and couldn’t get started writing a short story or anything during his replanning process because there weren’t any other stories that wanted to write themselves.
Granted, last year I was singing the same tune, if a somewhat different verse: I was asking people how to come up with ideas, because the story-a-week thing was leaving me kind of drained (after what, three months or something). The answer was one that I already knew but didn’t want to hear: take a couple-three ideas, smoosh them together, and write like the fifth or twentieth idea that came out of them (the first few ones usually just being the easy answers rather than the really fun ones).
What I really wanted to know was how to come up with ideas that inspired me on a weekly basis.
Stories that, in fact, wanted to write themselves.
Stories that would give me that “just fallen in love” feeling, all over again, on a weekly basis.
I still love those stories, but I don’ t wait around for them. I have long since used up my secret, subconscious store of “ideas that I will write as stories someday.” Years of secret inspiration: gone. I’ve even dug through old files to look at old ideas…they’re usually crap, which is why I didn’t remember them. So I just let it go and threw myself on the mercy of my muse.
Wait, my muse?
The muse goes deeper than you think. And, in fact, the muse likes nothing better than a deadline, a panic, and a sense of not having a clue what you’re going to do next. As in, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” not, “Sitting around in coffeeshops with a latte for weeks on end is the mother of invention.”
Your muse is in your butt. As in when it’s in the chair while your fingers are typing.
The thing that weeds out writers I have known is attitude, not talent. Hard work will make you more inspired. It’s true.
So here’s how I spark my muse when my conscious brain doesn’t have any ideas, sixty-some stories later:
1) Determine what kind of story I want to write–genre, age, audience. Will it be funny, serious, scary, or all three? Will there be romance? Will there be interestingly foolish people with good intentions? (On that last bit, almost certainly yes.) And length. That is, I set the rules for the story type.
2) Go for a walk, take a shower, do some housework, cruise the Internet (BoingBoing is excellent for this) and collect two or three ideas that appeal at the moment, then run them through the story machines in my head until I’ve hit that fifth or tenth or hundredth idea that actually grabs me and makes me grab a pen. I’m brainstorming the hook of the story, if you will, like “Amazons in the Old West” or something.
3) Come up with a four-step outline that gives a beginning, a middle, an end, and a twist in there somewhere.
4) Make sure I know the core point of the story, like “What makes revenge worthwhile?” and a conflict, like “Love versus membership in a tribe.”
(*Steps 1-4 are optional and should be adjusted to fit your personal writing process. Any adjustment that prevents Step 5 is bullshit.)
I can get an idea, write it up, edit it, and publish it on the same day, if I take all day. Sometimes I take longer, because I feel more comfortable not running to the last minute before a deadline. I couldn’t do it a year ago…because I thought I couldn’t. I didn’t break down the major bullshit preconceptions in my writing process all at one time, but bit by bit, week by week.
I can write longhand. I can type. I can write in a noisy room. I can write all alone. I can write to a full outline. I can write off the seat of my pants. I can write fast. I can write slow. I can write in poetry (although I tend not to). I can write literature. I can hack out pulp. I can write in multiple genres. I can write for multiple age groups.
The important thing is: you can, too.
Your muse is you.
Your muse isn’t something that happens to you. Inspiration doesn’t come from outside you; it comes from your spirit. Your writing process isn’t a magical spell that occurs all the better for your squeezing your eyes shut, sticking your fingers in your ears, and saying “la la la.”
Don’t be a prima donna. Don’t wait for inspiration (how can you wait for yourself? Forever, apparently). Don’t make excuses. Don’t let your writing process be a magical ritual–not that there’s anything wrong with treating yourself with a new pen, notebook, or fancy font; just don’t let it the obsessive-compulsive part of your brain latch onto it. It’s your work, your talent. It’s your you. It’s a business, and you have to show up.
Get your butt in the chair, fingers on keyboard. And if that doesn’t work, set a deadline. It’s inspiring.