Inspiration on Demand

Inspiration is a tricky thing. Some say that it is the defining line that separates an artist from a craftsman, a fickle yet essential mistress of any creative soul. Others point to the business side of creative process and make a case for learning to draw upon inspiration on demand. Therefore, today’s post is on inspiration, and, more specifically, on finding it in most circumstances.

Many professional writers live by word count. It is tempting to imagine word count as a cold, unfeeling tyrant of sorts, demanding allegiance through the threat of deadlines. That said, it is a great motivator and a tool of the trade. A writer who can produce consistent amounts of prose will, in time, craft a larger portfolio than the one who does not, and will have a greater number of works ready for publishing.

Of course, writing speed and ability to get to a certain word count no matter the circumstances are irrelevant if the end result is mediocre or worse. It is relatively easy to fill a page with words (as Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining” so aptly demonstrates), but will the result be any good? It seems that a writer needs to put himself or herself into the frame of mind that ensures the output is up to his or her standards, and that in itself is one of the largest issues many aspiring writers face.

The real question for all of us poor schmucks aspiring to write professionally is this: how do we push ourselves to write consistently, and without sacrificing quality?

Last week I have spent some time talking about music as a part of the writing process. In my opinion, it is a good aide to writing and setting appropriate mood, but music alone does not create inspiration. In fact, it may be a significant distraction for a writer too lost in a song to meet the challenge of the blank page (or, as the case may be, the blank word processor screen).

Now, the one method I have found useful is taking time in between writing sessions to think about the plot developments, characters, setting, and everything in between. It is a perfect cure for the lengthy drive to and from work, or for the few minutes when there is genuinely nothing to do. What it does for me is create enthusiasm for the piece I am writing, give me an idea on where to take the story next, what scenes to write, and how to make it good and entertaining. By the time I sit down to write, I am relatively organized, know where the story is going, and how the next section is going to fit into the overall story.

Another thing that works for me is my method of writing. Some writers obsessively plot out their stories in advance, making sure that every scene and character are documented, and that the outline created at the beginning of the project is adhered to. I tend to shun from this approach, and employ a more free form writing method, which allows for more malleability in my fiction. At the beginning of the project, I tend to have a rough mental outline encompassing the setting and the primary dilemma or conflict at the heart of the story – but that is it. Usually, I have a very good idea on how the story will end, which primary characters I want to employ, and what major twists or plot points will be utilized. That said, the details are usually filled in during the writing sessions, and thinking of such details provides me with an infusion of enthusiasm for my project in between the sessions.

Additionally, I often see my stories as a collection of interconnected scenes at their core. Some might be longer, some might be shorter, and some might be seen from multiple points of view over the course of the same storyline, but all serve as building blocks for the story. I find it easier to build the story from such blocks, and to write a full scene during each writing session, as time allows. In my opinion, it is much easier to finish a scene at once while maintaining the appropriate feel and character (or narrator) perspective than it is to stop after reaching certain word count, potentially breaking the flow of the narrative. Also, by seeing each scene as its own microcosm feeding into the greater story, I can use my conceptualizing time to fill in the details which will make the scene work.

Once the scene concept is sound, it is much easier for me to sit down and write it without struggling to find the right words. As the scenes connect to one another to form the overall story, I attempt to maintain my enthusiasm for the story concept without sacrificing the details. In this way, I believe that I can create a ready-made supply of ideas and concepts that make all writing sessions reasonably productive without sacrificing the quality of the final output.

So, there is my story. If there are any writers reading this blog, what is yours?

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1 Comment

  1. I get inspiration from a lot of different sources – history, random comments and in two cases writing up an idea I felt someone else had done very badly. Once I have the core idea, I work out the background details and then a basic plot.

    Once that’s done, I let the story flow. I don’t always stick closely to the plot – once I get an idea for the characters, I let them lead me around too.



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