Writing Progress

On What Inspires Writing (and a Little Writing Progress Update)

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.

Crow in field

Photo credit: Public Domain

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.

Writing Progress Update 8/24/16: When to Revise

Photo credit: crdotx via Foter.com / CC BY

As promised in my opening post, here’s what I created and worked on last week:

  • A couple of blog posts (one a review, which I’ll post in the next day or so)
  • Tweaks to a finished story so it was short enough for a submission (it was just a shade over a 4k word limit)
  • Story submissions to a few magazines (this is writing work too… otherwise I avoid it)
  • These tweaks helped break the ice for me to keep revising a story I’ve been working on with fantastic elements

That last bullet is the important one. I want to keep the blog going and it helps keep me in the writing game, but I need to get back on my fiction. And that story has also been one of the things I’ve been avoiding, and I need to stop doing that.

Sometimes it can help to sit on a story that is frustrating you when you just aren’t sure how to deal with it, coming back to it when you have the desire to fix its issues (on some levels with writing, you have to want to say something, as Fitzgerald argues for here). But at some point, you just have to deal with the thing–otherwise it’ll never happen.

And I so want this story to happen. It’s my first story that has a clear fantastic element to it. Even better, it’s something of a Ray Bradbury-esque story, where one change from our normal reality makes for terrific and even disturbing insight (like “The Veldt”). I love stories with fantastic elements, but it turns out that a lot of my ideas have just been straight realism so far–for whatever reason that’s just how it’s worked out. I had this idea during my first semester working on my MFA (three years ago!), and I had to start working on it right when I got home, I was so excited about it. I had a great first draft and revised it well that first semester, but then I had to leave it behind while working on other projects.

So yeah… finishing it would be a great milestone for me. The difficulty is that it’s like 95% of the way there, with some really tricky tweaks needed to make its main character and his situation work as they need to. I’ve been tossing and turning on how to make those tweaks, which has led to avoiding it. They’re just not going to happen without me looking into the story and digging into it, though.

That’s me and what I’ve been working on. What have you been creating this past week? How have you been connecting with the world, rather than avoiding it?