When I was a little kid I used to shut myself in my room for days reading about dragons, magic, and epic battles between the forces of good and evil. The characters caught up in those conflicts were my friends—my crew. They came to life as they waltzed across pages that pulled me into a world so much better than the one I was occupying. A piece of me silently hoped to get swept away in some quest to save the world. I think that’s in large parts why I fell in love with the Harry Potter series, but I digress. I’m a writer, an observer. The words I put to paper come from this mirror that has reflected back so many experiences and people from my life. But writing is more than scrutinizing what’s being shown in the mirror. There’s this beast in writing that you have to work with. This hell of a monster who can string you along a path of words you never imagined you could mold into a story because they seem so great—so beyond your skill—that to think it was you alone is preposterous.
And that’s what the beast is: a partner of fiery creative passion that invokes some level of greatness within you. You can try to tame him (I call him Diego), but your words would fall flat and dull, bludgeoning the reader to death. You have to run with the beast, going on an adventure with these characters you’ve ironed out together, reflecting on the things you’ve been acquainted with. Sometimes the beast shows up, and sometimes I think Diego hibernates. But whether or not he is there, you have to show up to writing. Not only when there is a spark of inspiration, but also when the words have to be painfully extracted with clumsy hands. Because as Chuck Close says,
Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.
“Inspiration” comes when you’ve muled through writing day in and day out. That’s the hard part: showing up and putting in the time. I write this post to remind myself to get back on track as well as anyone out there writing. We all can fall off the course, but what makes the truly successful are the ones that continue to throw themselves back into the fray like a blubbering idiot. Writing takes a certain level of persistent insanity, but it’s worth it. It’s hard and wonderful and beautiful and intoxicating and deadly and so many other things. It’s a diamond that you have to collect among all the garbage floating around. But once you get the treasure, you realize you don’t have to keep wishing like the young kid who wants to get swept away. You can create your own magical worlds and immerse yourself in them.
[Featured photo credit: Drew Coffman]