Sunday, December 22, 2013

Waiting for Inspiration: Fiction Writer's Beware!

Waiting for Inspiration: A warning to Fiction WritersWaiting for inspiration to write, or searching for the "just right" opening sentence or paragraph will, more often than not, make you nuts.
Let's look at inspiration first. It does come to all of us. It might appear as a sudden flash of a whole story or scene or poem or essay. You have it! You know you have it! You sit down to write and the words flow like magic. Moments like this are truly a gift from the Muse and to her I say, "Thank you so very much."

More often, inspiration gets you to pick up pen and paper or go to the computer to writer, but no sooner do you begin than you find yourself in a labyrinth of words and thoughts. And all had been so clear only moments before. In despair, you give up, feeling like a failure. "So much for inspiration," you sigh.

Actually, inspiration is doing its job when it hurls you into the labyrinth.... or my favorite metaphor, "down the rabbit hole."
Inspiration is meant to get you not only fired up but open to possibilities you hadn't considered before. Or perhaps you had considered a possibility and now you are seeing it in a new and more favorable light.

Years ago, I interviewed a scientist, whose name I sadly cannot remember, but I do remember the story he told me. He was working on developing the mircowave oven and he had reached a problem he simply couldn't solve. Everything he tried, met with failure. One day he was at the zoo with his children. He was holding up one of them and together they were looking through a wire fence at an animal. In a flash, he found the answer to his problem in the weave of the wire zoo fencing!

Stories like this abound in the journals of science, technology, medicine and the arts. For us, as writers, the lesson is this: don't give up because inspiration seems to fail you. And don't try to figure out what it is you want to write.

Go to the zoo and look at the animals.

However, to be fair, inspiration rarely comes out of the blue, although it might appear to do so. Inspiration usually is the result of having spent time consciously or unconsciously playing with and searching for an outlet for creative expression.
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  1. Hi Emily,

    My thought on inspiration.

    Thomas Edison said, "Genius is one percent inspiration, 99 perecent perspiration." I think that is especially true for writing. I get a fleeting tease of inspiration for a character, or the conflict, or a location, but it is always not enough to keep the momentum going. After that comes the struggle and the questions I ask myself about the character, the plot, the motivation. It's a wonderful thing inspiration. It creates excitement and pushes us down a road toward that pot of gold, but it is only a little push. The long walk is up to us, one step at a time.


  2. How true and well said.
    Another quote I love is by John Irving. "Half my life is an act of revision!"
    Happy Holidays,


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