This is what I think about inspiration: that it happens all the time. We have these tiny spark moments where we think, “What if…” or “I wonder what that would be like?” Sometimes I see new books on the table at Barnes & Noble and think, “How weird. Here’s an author who must wonder the same things I do.”
Now there’s a scary thought.
So inspiration is happening all the time. But what I think people are really asking when they ask about inspiration is how you fan those sparks into something that can become a story.
Igniting Your Inspiration
I have two thoughts on that. The first is that you have to capture it. Great ideas happen all the time. Mine tend to happen while I’m lying in bed trying to sleep without a pen or paper handy. Thank goodness for my phone’s notepad feature. Demon came to me as an idea while I was actively trying to think of a character for a collaborative story-writing group while I was driving. I went home that night and wrote sixteen pages. You have to capture it as fully as you can, as much as comes to you, at the moment.
The second thought is this: no matter how much planning or outlining or brilliant on-the-edge thinking you do ahead of time, there are things that happen in the writing process that you cannot manufacture without actually doing the work of writing. It happens on the page and there is no substitute for that. The reaction of the natural world to Eve’s eating of the fruit in Havah was one of those things that readers now tell me they love, but that I did not plan for in my binder notebook of a so-called outline. It happened in the writing and I went with it.
Food for the Flame
When inspiration peters out, one of a few things has probably happened: you have spaced your attention to the project out too long, too little at a time… you are being too perfectionistic (and possibly rewriting the beginning over and over)… or you do not love the idea. I think there’s some merit in giving yourself a slightly obsessive edge to really exploring a project. A half hour a day is not usually enough to keep you immersed. (It takes me nearly that long just to remember where I left off and why I’m doing this in the first place every time I sit down.)
A deadline helps. A deadline with money on the line helps even more. I admit, I’m not disciplined, and I’m not one to give up my words gracefully. Given my druthers, I will pick a manuscript into a bleeding, scabby mess. Friends and editors usually have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands. Writing under a deadline is a completely different situation than writing with a future idea of possibly showing the project to someone, maybe. You no longer have years to write. You have months. This is not a reality that I personally relish, but there it is. And ultimately a writer has to be at peace knowing that a work is never truly finished, even though it may be captured on paper in a moment in time.
As far as restocking the well… I do believe it’s part of my job to play. When I don’t take the time to go to movies, to go out and talk to others (I tend to be an introvert naturally), or to read, it really shows up in my work. It becomes dry and lusterless as a starving person’s hair. So go out. Hear and observe people. Watch the way they speak. Travel. See something new. There’s nothing like travel to yank you out of you safe bubble and make you go “hmm!” Read a book. I’m guilty of not reading enough. Go to movies. Watch TV shows. Walk, outside and alone. Live. Writing and inspiration are ultimately about this.
Tosca Lee is the author of Havah (go here to watch the trailer), Demon: A Memoir (go here to watch the trailer), Forbidden (co-authored with Ted Dekker, available September 2011) and Iscariot (coming in 2012). To find out more, check out her web page here. You can also become a fan on her Facebook page here. Or follow her on Twitter here.