After the great fiery ash heap that was my fall of 2016, it’s been lovely to be able to get back into the writing game. And egads, I just realized my previous writing update and encouragement for other creators is from late August of 2016: I’m far overdue! Let’s do this.
The two most common demons that seem to hinder most creative types from getting work done are finding the time and inspiration to do it. My weakness is always the former, sometimes thanks to life, sometimes thanks to my own bad habits. But inspiration has never been much of an issue for me—others in my MFA program seemed to love writing prompts, but I never felt the need for them. I had so many ideas banging around in my head that starting on something else seemed like a waste.
More than that, I definitely need to feel a strong connection to an idea to want to write about it, and most writing prompts just don’t do that for me. I need a feeling, a problem, a character—something nagging at me that needs to be said. Some of the better prompts do get you going in that direction, but my inspiration seems to draw more from interacting with the creative work of others or problems I’m seeing in the world around me. It’s more substantial than starting down a path: it’s like getting a vision of a destination some miles away, if that makes sense.
That isn’t to say writing prompts are terrible. Whatever it takes to get you feeling that connection, that inspiration, is all good. I’ve talked to enough writers, read enough about writing, and taught it enough to know that this is one of those things where you have to find the process that works for you.
So what have I been working on, with the type of inspiration that works for me? The story I was able to draft a couple weeks ago has been sitting inside me a long time, a couple years even, percolating whenever I heard the song Mineshaft ii by Dessa. As with many of her songs, Dessa does emotion to perfection, and the driving nature of the song and the situation it describes always led my thinking down a story of my own. It starts with the same situation (an old love calling to apologize for how he was with the main character of the piece), but mine went in a different direction, a darker one. Not that Dessa’s is all unicorns and rainbows—the victory at the end is hard won and fraught. It’s just that the story I kept feeling was more on how we humans can stay stuck. Through the mud life throws at us and how we sometimes just keep spinning our wheels in it.
It needs some more tweaking (which feedback will help me achieve), but it’s most of the way there. And I love it, the emotion surging in my chest as the story races to the end feels just right, it’s the same emotion I get when listening to Mineshaft ii, and that’s part of how I know I’ve gotten it right. Different stories, same, truthful emotion.
Interestingly enough, the story draft I’ve started working on now heavily features a crow—something another song of Dessa’s does. This time, I swear I’m off in my own weird territory, though there is some relation, like Dessa’s song has with Poe’s “The Raven.” Like members of the same club, giving conspiratorial nods to each other from across the room. I think it’s okay for creative types to rub off on each other—we’re all in need of a little bit of inspiration to get it done.