As I get deeper into my latest manuscript, I’ve been pondering the source of inspiration. I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert last year and her personification of inspiration. I’m paraphrasing, but I recall her characterization of inspiration as almost a kind of spirit or sprite that visits us. If we ignore it, it’ll flit away and leave us, but if we ride out the inspiration while it’s there, we are fortunate enough to produce something creative.
This changed the way I craft stories. In fact, I don’t even see it as me generating much of anything. As a young writer who loved planners of all kinds, I found myself getting swept up in the character and plot planning worksheets for novelists. I would try to force myself to hammer out every minute detail of a story and then would never finish it. I completed my first-ever novel back when I was fifteen or sixteen. I’ve since lost the CD disc that it was saved on, but I’m sure it was terrible and (more importantly) I didn’t spend any time on those monotonous worksheets. I was inspired and I hammered out the 50,000+ word manuscript in less than a month. I was obsessive about it and persisted even when I didn’t really know where I wanted the story to go. After that, I went back to my little notebooks and planning sheets for every other story idea that came to me.
Tens of unfinished manuscripts and half-completed character development notes later, I eventually finished another novel last year. I started it before I read Big Magic and I approached the story intuitively, writing where I felt like the story was naturally taking me. If I got stuck, I would spend maybe an hour brainstorming how a plot hole could be patched up or how a character could be more layered. This method worked beautifully and I’m very proud of that story. I picked up Big Magic at a time while writing that story where I was beginning to doubt my system. I had begun to watch AuthorTube videos for the first time and everyone I saw was a plotter. Reading Gilbert’s description of inspiration encouraged me to continue with the path that worked for me.
My debut novel that’s slated to come out early 2021 worked in a similar way to the previous story, but the process was even smoother! I was more confident in my ability to cultivate the story without a detailed written plan. After finishing Fear of Flying, I had a ton of other story ideas that I worked on in bits and pieces, but then the inspiration for my current work-in-progress hit hard. I’ve learned to recognize that feeling and I knew I had to ride that surge of inspiration to the finish line when it strikes. So, a couple of weeks later and I’m almost halfway through the latest story.
I can’t wait to finish and begin the editing process for this one as well!
All this to say, there is no right way to write a book. Also, I think all of us creative types view and manage inspiration differently. I’m curious about you! How do you write and how do you deal with inspiration?