I used to think that inspiration was the absolute truth.
I don’t know why I thought this.
It’s the cliché. A bolt of lightning strikes you. A fire works its way into your hands and the only way to put it out is to create. All these images are very violent, and I find that disturbing.
But, of course, that’s what inspiration is supposed to be – a disturbance. This urge that comes from nowhere, is inexplicable, is the touch of some divine power upon your brain, God, the muses, the oversoul, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from, what matters is that it comes from outside of you.
And if it comes from outside of you, then you can have no real control over it. You have to sit and wait for inspiration to strike you like an abusive lover. And, like an abusive lover, you can be confident that inspiration will strike again, you just never know when.
[Are you having problems at home? –ed.]
Point taken. But still, what can one do about inspiration? You can lure it in like a crafty fisherman, you can hide out in its natural habitat like a duck hunter, or you can set your lap like a bed and hope inspiration snuggles in for a nap.
What you can’t do, by definition, is expect it. Even duck hunters need something to occupy their time with while they wait – most probably beer – and a cat is always more likely to take up residence on your lap once you start doing something else it will take great pleasure in distracting you from. Cats know that both books and computers are evil, though we will never learn.
What I find strange about my personal reliance on inspiration for so much of my writing life is that, for so much of my writing life, I didn’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration. I started writing for my classes at the School of the Arts when I was fourteen and had no end of journal writing, poems, plays, stories, essays, reviews, all and sundry, sundry and all, to write. In college I took a creative writing class every semester, and though I may not have begun writing a story until the night before, I was still required to write one, and then another, and another.
For the two year break between college and my MFA, I still wrote, but to no deadlines except my own. By that time I had indoctrinated myself against not-writing. An eight-year-long habit is hard to break, and though my friends told me I could do it, that they’d support me, I just couldn’t stand the withdrawal symptoms. Shaky fingers. Weak heart. Disturbingly normal dreams.
Because the truth is that I wasn’t born with that burning urge to write or, as far as I can recall, create. A few years ago my mom sent me a book I wrote when I was a child, but I don’t remember that. I remember writing my first story for my eighth grade English class (a fiction spun around my Dungeons & Dragons characters) and deciding to apply to the School of the Arts because a girl I liked said she was going to apply. It wasn’t until I’d written for years and years that I began to see writing as something that I needed to do – and that, most probably, is just a natural reaction from having spent so much of my life writing, from seeing writing as an integral part of who I am.
If not write, then what?
So write. But write what?