|This muse isn't telling you squat.
Image description: Muse sculpture
Arielle K Harris
Inspiration and a writer are in a dysfunctional relationship during the writing process. It’s a one-sided affair, since the writer needs inspiration to write but the inspiration remains coldly unaffected by any begging on behalf of the writer asking please why doesn’t it just come here now and help me write this book, dammit.
But, like a shy lover, inspiration can’t be chased. Instead the writer needs to bide their time, create around themselves the environment which inspiration is drawn to. Casual negligence works best. Being preoccupied with something menial but important, like doing the dishes or sleeping, is often when inspiration turns up unannounced, perfectly formed and enticing. Perforce the writer has no choice but to drop everything at once, leave the half-washed dishes, or rouse themselves out of a warm almost-slumber to turn on the bedside lamp, and rush immediately to jot down the illicit murmurings which inspiration imparts or else risk losing those words to the obscurity of memory.
Inspiration, that sly minx, knows this well. It will deliberately pick a moment when your hands aren’t free, or a night when you really need to sleep, and especially seek out a time when you don’t have any access to writing implements. It appears in the breath of a single instant, imparts to you the much-sought secret to tying together all your disparate plot lines, or solving your character dilemma, or gives you the perfect opening scene to an entirely new book you have no time to write, and then whisks itself away again. You try to repeat the words to yourself to remember them clearly, hastening your steps towards some form of writing or recording device, but with every new recitation you feel the words slipping. Like a tea bag dipped too many times in hot water you lose your convictions with each reuse, the words lose their power and become insipid and tasteless.
So you start to carry around pens and notebooks wherever you go, or are technologically advanced enough to only require the use of the smartphone which is indelibly tethered to your existence already. You leave these things within reach on your bedside table, and do the dishes with one eye always on the instruments of your craft, just in case. Your friends and family are used to seeing you suddenly sit upright with no warning, dive into your pocket or handbag or man-purse and then furiously begin writing with a frown of wrathful concentration. You’re determined to beat inspiration at its own game.
And so line by line, paragraph by paragraph and page by page you wrest the story from the grasping clutches of inspiration. It wasn’t easy but you’re in an uneasy truce, and it’s playing along for once. Maybe this relationship will work out for the best, you think. Maybe my inspiration really does love me back.
Then inspiration visits you again, innocent as the blue sky, craftily sneaking into your mind while it relates to you that, sorry, you actually need to kill off your favorite character. And it’s right, dammit, it’s so right.
This is why writers go mad and die young.
On the other hand, there are the days when you swear inspiration has left you for good. You accept that your writing process will be a hard slog of one uninspired word after another while becoming increasingly convinced that the whole thing is a terrible waste of everyone’s time and an appalling degradation of the English language. But you do it. Day in and day out, you write those words, even ones that don’t entirely make sense, even ones that seem to confuse and obfuscate the point you swear you were trying to make. You tear each word from your brain with effort, put it on the page however it best fits. It’s painful in a soul-rending way, but easier to bear than the deep ache of disappointment you feel while staring at the empty expanse of white where your heart’s words are supposed to be.
Keep writing, writers. Every day, inspiration or not, word-vomit or polished prose. As we approach the commencement of this year’s NaNoWriMo I believe this message is even more important to hear. Sometimes sheer bloody-mindedness and a refusal to accept defeat is the only way to write a book when every scrap of that shining, beautiful vision inspiration first let you glimpse vanishes from your mind’s eye. Like a true relationship your writing process isn’t going to be all sunshine and roses and morning sex and surprise presents, you have to work past the hardships and put in the effort every day, even just trying is good enough, it shows you care.
At least until the book is done and you can ignore it for a while, or give it away to someone else to judge its worthiness for themselves, or just hide it in a drawer and move on to something new and exciting – that part is less like a relationship. Or so I hope.
Arielle K Harris is the author of the novel Bestial as well as the ridiculous steampunk time travel drama short story The Adventurous Time Adventures of Doctor When. She is responsible for one very opinionated toddler as well as a writer, poet, falconer, knitter of many half-finished scarves, drinker of tea, enthusiast for wine and sometimes has been known to have wild birds in her spare room.
She can be found online at her own website: www.ariellekharris.com as well as on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/ariellekharris/ and her published work can be found on Amazon here:https://www.amazon.com/author/ariellekharris
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