Friday, August 18, 2017

Kiss Your Inspiration Goodbye

Inspiration is an important, but ultimately small part of writing a novel. Story blossoms are everywhere—in the lines of a book I’ve read, the shape of a tree I’ve seen, the experiences I’ve had, and the lifelong sojourning of my imagination. Inspiration is the wind that comes and sprinkles pollen onto one particular blossom. Then the capricious wind flits away, leaving me with the job of growing that blossom into a lush piece of fruit. I have to water the tree. Protect the blossom from frost. Keep the insects away. I have to stop the birds from pecking the fruit. Pray that the hail will not come, and that the well will not run dry. This has little to do with inspiration and everything to do with steadfast work.

What keeps me writing after the initial inspiration is the great glory of revelation— those flashes of insight where I suddenly see what the story is really about, suddenly see who the character really is, suddenly see what that character should really be doing. Such revelations mean that my story has come alive and is now running on ahead of me. If I’m lucky, if the work is a true one, the revelations come again and again as I chase after the true story.

Often this coming alive of the story means I have to abandon my initial inspiration. Perhaps I thought the blossom would become an apple, only to find it is really a peach. It can be gut-wrenching to abandon my inspiration. But I must, in order to see what is actually in front of me now, to see what the story has become and wants to become, rather than what I thought it was going to be. As a result of my own work and care, the story declares its independence. Like any parent, I must help it become what it was born to be, and must fight my reluctance to let it go,

If a writer honors the wonder and glory and kicking life of what she has miraculously created, then, with a kiss of blessing and thanks, she can let the capricious wind of inspiration blow away over another hill, and get on with the work at hand.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

7:30 BELLS: Traffic Jam Bells

Stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway, I inched through the winter night. I didn’t want to be there. I was tired after a long day and just wanted to get home. Where are the bells now? I wondered. Was there any way to feel vibrantly alive in this situation?

A red river of brake lights stretched ahead as far as I could see. Across the freeway, a white river of headlights rushed toward me. All those lights glistened on the wet road and danced in the rain, as luminous and atmospheric as a Turner painting. All these people in all these cars were coming and going like the endless river of life.

None of them wanted to be stuck in this traffic jam. They all wanted to be somewhere else. Or did they? Maybe in one of these cars, two people soon to part were blessed with an extra hour together. Maybe a man listening to music would think of some wonderful new idea. Or a woman listening to an audio book had an insight that would change her life.

The traffic jam turned beautiful. And suddenly, I didn’t want to be anywhere else but in that shining red and white river of life.