In this uncertain time of pandemic and stay at home orders and economic hardship, I’ve been thinking a bit about inspiration. I don’t typically ruminate about my muse or anyone else’s, but lately, I’ve caught myself doing that every now and then. So, why now? Why, after years of writing, do I find myself pondering such an ephemeral concept as inspiration?
I suppose it’s because recently I’ve written some works outside the speculative fiction genre that I usually toil in. Dragons and spaceships and sorceresses are what catch my fancy. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words on those fantastical topics. Now I find myself penning stuff I never imagined having any interest in writing about – slice of life vignettes, the typical, the every day. Then again, these fictive works are about life during COVID-19 when the only thing normal about daily life is the abnormal. Who would’ve imagined just five months ago that we’d be living in a dystopia where wearing a mask is required to shop at Costco, all to stop an invisible killer? Not me.
What originally inspired me to write a slice of life vignette was a dream. Not just any dream, either, an anxiety dream about my concern for my wife, who is a hospital worker. The very next morning, I wrote a short piece about my unease.
I had engaged with my nervousness. Engagement is the key to inspiration or the muse or pure inventiveness, at least when it comes to fiction. If you can engage with something, meditate on it, become engrossed by it, you can write about it. Hell, you can write a story about it. An awful lot of energy is required to grind out a story, whether it be 100 words or 100,000. The key is engaging creatively with the story, and I mean story in an all-encompassing sense that includes the plot and characters.
Engagement is how you avoid writer’s block. I was fortunate enough to learn this lesson early on in my authorial journey. Years ago, my critique group had a resident writer who also happened to be a retired university professor. He taught that a novel stems from an idea, basically one or two sentences that capture the theme of the entire work. All the subsequent planning and character development, etc., can be traced back to that initial, quintessential idea. Now, this is really hard, at least for me. I don’t know that I’ve ever been successful at it, but just attempting to compress a novel’s worth of thoughts into one or two cogent sentences really makes you, dare I say, engage your creativity.
I will leave you with this thought. Perhaps inspiration or the muse or whatever you want to call it is not ethereal at all. It’s damn hard work. You have to want to be inspired. You have to think about your subject critically, from all angles. You have to be engaged, and anyone who has been deputized as a part-time teacher due to school closures can tell you, engagement is a difficult skill to master.