Following Inspiration

I’ve been writing professionally now for eleven years, with no day job backup.  Some years are boom, some are bust, and I must admit the financial roller coaster gets a little stressful at times. You can build a reputation, a readership, and that helps, but when so many families are struggling, they don’t buy as many books for their children. It’s a sad fact. And then when you’re jumping into new genres, as I’m doing, there is no existing readership. Thus, even less security.

This is how I’ve learned to deal with it, and incidentally, how I’ve learned to deal with writing 3 – 4 books or screenplays a year without burning out.

I follow the inspiration. I work on projects when it feels right, not when I “should”. For example, this week, I was happily working away on a juvenile series proposal, the rewrite of Undertow, and Angel’s Flight, my current novel, when along comes a movie idea! Yesterday was spent in taking notes, discovering characters, realizing the science of the new story. I was excited, exhilarated, over the moon (or actually, over Azul, the name of my new planet)!

And then it was time to stop. Just stop. So I did. Now that idea is sitting there, happily started on paper, waiting for me to have time to return to it. It may even be my next movie.

That’s not to say that following inspiration is always a heady experience. You notice there was a time to stop, to go back to my novel? It was hard going when I got back, really hard, but I was where the inspiration called me. From highest creative heights to slogging through a difficult scene…

Both were necessary. Both were following inspiration. Both were creating something incredible (or incredible to me, at least). One was just a little more fun than the other.

Okay, a lot more fun! 🙂 And that’s okay.

Expectation of Characters – and Self

I am wandering in my novel; the right things are not being written. I’m not touching the core, and some even seems obvious artifice, at least to me. I like my characters, and I believe they are worthy of carrying a story, but I keep losing their true personalities in my expectations of who they should be.

Expectation: as damaging in the world of the novel as it is in real life.

From the Tao te Ching:

“The Master’s power is like this. He lets all things come and go effortlessly, without desire. He never expects results; thus he is never disappointed. He is never disappointed; thus his spirit never grows old.”

I am disappointed tonight, for not only am I not writing the right things, but I have expectations of myself in writing their story. My main expectation as creator: to get the story at least close to right. And I’m not, because I am not allowing the story to naturally unfold from who my characters are.

Time to get real. No more shoulds. No more expectations. No more fear that I’m going to write the wrong thing, because that fear itself will cause the wrong thing to be written.

Poetry as Inspiration

When I was a kid, I loved to read, and one of my favourite books was an old leather bound copy of Sir Walter Scott’s poems that I found in the attic. Being a kid, I had little idea of what I was reading, but that didn’t matter. What I liked best was the sound and rhythm of the words, and the feelings they created within me.

This morning, in need of inspiration, I turned to a tiny, very old book that I found in London a few years ago, A Book of Narrative Verse.

My inspiration to write comes from Horatius, by Lord Macaulay. 

And, like a horse unbroken
When first he feels the rein,
The furious river struggled hard,
And tossed his tawny mane,
And burst the curb, and bounded,
Rejoicing to be free,
And whirling down, in fierce career,
Battlement, and plank, and pier,
Rushed headlong to the sea.

How I love these old poems! And this one captures the feeling I get when out on a boat in rough water. It exhilarates me in the same way as riding a racing horse.

And now, bolstered by the magic of words, I go to write–and hopefully to create a little magic of my own.

You know you’re meant to be a novelist when…

You know you’re meant to be a novelist when:

  1. You haven’t written anything for two days, and you fall into the pit of despair.
  2. Your spouse says they’re leaving you, and all you can think is “I can use this.”
  3. Listening to the bickering couple seated behind you on the bus is completely fascinating.
  4. You get entire story ideas, complete with characters, theme, setting, as you sit in the dentist’s waiting room…
  5. … and said story never makes it onto the page because you didn’t have any paper with you and you got an even better idea while your teeth were being cleaned.
  6. You finally get time to write in the afternoon, and minutes later, when you stop, it’s dark outside.

Do you have some more? I’d love to hear them.

A thought on Villians

If your villian starts working against the hero instead of for themselves, then something has gone wrong. Keep the villain’s motivation consistent and away from being plot driven. They need to have their own goals, which just happen to be in opposition to the hero’s goals.

Creativity Crusher: Fear of Uncertainty

My thought today: it seems like I really like it when things make sense. If something is chaotic, unknown, amorphous, I have a hard time with it. I ache to get in there to tame, understand, and define. In other areas of life, of course, this isn’t such a bad thing. Order makes my family happy.

But then there is my art.

Art is born in a mishmash of chaos. What might seem like a lovely bit of fun from the outside is hiding characters that aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, a plot that is muddled, metaphors that are jumbled, and a theme that only leaves me bewildered…

What I learned to do in the past, when I wasn’t so experienced with juvenile fiction, was to accept that things were going to get really messy before I even started to understand them. I learned to move ahead anyway, to get comfy with disorder, to embrace confusion.

Now that I’m starting a new genre, it seems I need to learn this all over again. Angel’s Flight is a far more complex story, and things will get a little wild. I need to accept that and relax into the craziness.  I need to keep in mind that that’s how the process works. And have fun with it too. Fun is good. 🙂