Tag Archives: Inspiration

What is REAL writing? (The case of the babbling brook)

On a recent walk, I treaded upon what some might call a ‘babbling brook’ that ran adjacent to the family-centered park. The water was shallow; heavy, smooth, moss-covered rocks made for slippery pathways from one side of the stream to the other. No frogs, no mallards, maybe a couple of crayfish, and only about fifteen feet away from a plastic playground supported by pieces of shredded tires, and bordered by thin wooden planks. Still, it was canopied by an assortment of trees, and  daggers of sunlight jutted through the leaves’ crevices. Not exactly Yellowstone National Park, but a quiet (ish) place for reflection.

But then I hollowed out all the surrounding noise, and listened…what a sound! Mellifluous as a cello. The brook had such consistency, such purpose, such continuity.  The water knew which direction it was going, and there it went, with unyielding persistence. I sat on a nearby rock and wished I had brought my journal. What a perfect place to write! I could compose the proverbial Great American Novel out here in the partial shade, geese honking from up above, and the echoes of children’s laughter tickling my ears.

Then it hit me, and it seemed too, the water stopped flowing. No I couldn’t.  Who writes sitting atop a rock? My butt would cramp up. What about those unexpected gusts of wind? It’d screw up the pages in my journal—blowing ‘em this way and that. Bugs. Mosquitoes. I might inhale a fly. And am I nuts…children in the distance? Children in the distance? Mid-chapter you’d start to see my handwriting changing, first  the letters would form into a tight hybrid of print and cursive, as though I were writing faster; then, eventually, the words would be bigger, thicker, darker, as though I were writing harder, thus angrier. And can we all agree that angry writing equals poor writing?

There was a time when I yearned for those peaceful sanctuaries where inspiration was conceived and great ideas were born.* But I’ve realized that real, productive writing doesn’t happen that way. It happens at home on the computer. Long, long, hours on the computer. Plus, as far as I’m concerned, inspiration can go to Hell; writing doesn’t get done that way either. Writing gets done by sitting in a chair (not a rock) in front of the computer. Writing gets done a second, third, fourth, etc. time…wait for it…on the computer! It’s rigorous, it’s trying, it’s wearisome, and unlike the babbling brook that travels in one fluid direction (I’m not taking weather into account at the moment) while real writing takes many turns, and often ends in a place where one never even began.

A first draft of a poem? OK, maybe. Ideas? Yes, definitely. A well-crafted, sweat-over, labor-inducing novel, collection of stories, or other long work? Let the babbling brook be. And leave those crayfish alone.

*Cliches intended

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Filed under Inspiration, The Writing Life, Writing Process

Just Do It

I just finished a first draft of a short story. I love the after-feeling of writing–imagine the way the body feels after exercise; that’s how my brain feels after writing. These days I believe heavily in forcing myself to write. It used to be if I was having an off-day, I’d cut myself some slack, wait for the creative ebb to re-take its course.

Not anymore. Now I force myself to sit down four times a week and write at least 1,000 words. Then I’m off the hook–unless I want to write more, which I sometimes do. I’ve found that often, once I start writing the so-called inspiration finds its way.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have off-days, and yes, there have been times when I’ve broken my own promises to write. I keep at it though. That’s the ONLY way it gets done. I learned this a long time ago, but only understand the validity of it now, in recent times. That is precisely how I managed to write a draft of a 108,000 word novel (yeah, probably needs some cutting). People have asked me how I managed to do that with a full-time job. The only answer is, I just did. A few hours here, a few hours there. I made it work. And I kept at it. I typed and typed until it was all done. Now I just have to clean it up…which to me is excruciating. That’s the hard part. The revision. The writing is fun.

Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” I used to think that ideas for stories would just pop up when I least expected them. If that were the case I’d have no stories. It doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, us intrinsic types have to physically come up with an idea. It only needs to be a notion. Creativity will take over eventually. But a true intrinsic will need to seek out the fuel from it’s source.

This story I just completed? I decided to come up with a new idea for a story. So, one day while I monitored the students in my class using computers for an assignment, I thought up the story. The characters, the setting, the plot, everything. When I went to write it, it spilled forth. I reached for inspiration, and it arrived.

I only stress this because I’ve learned how crucial it is. If you will write, then you must. Write, that is.

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Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration