Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Beginning, and All the Rest

On the strength of a description of sardine fishing, a series of pages so enchanting I read them out loud to my husband, I bought “Zeitoun,” by David Eggers.

The rest of the book has been a disappointment. (I’m only about a third of the way through, so it could get better–maybe?) It’s not terrible, of course, but it’s not as good as I expected.

So often writers are told to make sure our first sentence, first line, first page, first chapter draws people in, makes an impression, sets the stage, kicks ass.

It’s not that we never hear advice about what comes after that first bit. On the agents’ blogs I’ve read, the key message is always and forever, “Write a good book. Then, only then, should you dare even think about contacting me.”

But if David Eggers needs to be reminded, then we all do. So here’s a reminder for us all, and especially myself: Don’t forget about the REST of your article, book, poem, what have you. Make it all count, please. Your (future) readers are counting on you.

Inspiration, Perspiration, Etc.

Recently I chatted with my brother, a “starving musician,” about the album he’s writing. I asked if he has a schedule or prefers to write at a particular time of day.

He said, no, that if he isn’t inspired, he doesn’t write.

My experience has been the opposite: If I don’t write, I’m less likely to be inspired. The more I write, or even just stare at the page, the more stuff happens in my story.

On the other hand, the relative quiet of the holidays reminded me that part of writing is not writing. It’s thinking, noodling, imagining. Of course, it’s harder to tell your spouse or your boss, “I need a few hours to think,” than it is to set aside time to “write.”

But it’s also really hard to think when your life is full of other things, noise both literal and figurative, obligations, worries, stress. And for me, it’s hard to be creative when the noise crowds my brain. I need space in there for my characters to roam around, and time for the roaming to happen. And then I need time to write, so the inspiration doesn’t get lost.

Of course, sometimes, what seems clear in my head becomes muddied when I try to set it down. And that’s where writing as inspiration comes back in. It’s a really imprecise and sometimes maddening process, the interaction between inspiration and perspiration, particularly for someone writing a first novel, with no outside pressure from an agent or editor or deadline. The lack of pressure is both a blessing and a curse.

I’m also aware that without an initial inspiration, I wouldn’t be working on a novel at all. Some magical quality makes certain ideas stick and inspires us to follow them to their furthest possibilities.

What’s your relationship to inspiration, whatever your creative outlet?