Mineshaft 2

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.

On Rejection, Dejection, and That Far-Off Horizon 1 comment

Photo credit: netlancer2006 via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: netlancer2006 via Foter.com / CC BY

As I’ve heard from more than a few other people, it’s been something of a long year. “Please stop the world, I’d like to get off” is an altogether easy sentiment to agree with. The headlines more often than not are full of death and dark things, and the common response is to draw in, to huddle on yourself and lose sight of all that hurts.

Or to lash out.

But as a favorite musician of mine says, “You’ve already been here before, you already know where it goes.”* Because when you go fetal, when you restrict your point of view to the small space you will allow under your protecting arms, there is only the downward spiral. The same goes for the tunnel vision of anger—so many open avenues are lost to sight and the anger only builds upon itself.

I’ve never been much of the lashing out type. It takes quite a bit to get me going, like a bully at one summer camp that kept flicking my fellow cabinmates and me with a rubberband while we tried to sleep, or the neighbor kids that were filling their snowballs with ice and hitting my younger brother with them.

My tendency is to draw in, to huddle in on myself. Which leads to far too much inaction, sadly enough. And over the past eight months, I have spent too long debating whether working on a blog again is worthwhile, whether it was simply a shouting into a vast cacophony where no one else will ever hear me.

Then there is my fiction writing, which I worked on every day of the week (with only occasional, short pauses) for three straight years before working on and earning my MFA over two years. Despite trying not to, I still hit that dry patch so many do after completing their creative writing degree, a combination of overwork from those four fast-paced semesters (while I was teaching full time) and a heavy teaching load.

But I’m well past that and any valid excuses for why I’ve only been occasionally working on stories for the past year. So what’s the problem? Why can’t I do what I was doing before?

Part of it’s the rhythm. When you get yourself used to writing every day (or at certain times throughout the week), you feel weird when you don’t. I’d actually get a bit grouchy when I didn’t work, like a caffeine addict without a needed daily dose of java. On top of that, though, is that I’m tired of rejections. I know how hard it is to be published (I read for magazines myself), but it’s difficult not to feel a weariness when another form response arrives in the mailbox (or the inbox)… even the notes that compliment the submission and aren’t just the standard rejection don’t give a thrill like they used to. The rejections that particularly hurt are the ones that take a matter of days to turn you down. I don’t want them to take over a year to get back to me (which has happened!), but yeesh, at least let me feel good about the submission for a couple weeks. It might be silly, but having the work out there feels good—you’re at least trying.

And that’s what is stupid about all this foot dragging: I know how to combat this weariness I’ve been dealing with. The only thing that keeps you going is to keep creating, to keep offering stories to magazines (and querying agents). Because 100% of the things not submitted are not published, as they say—no matter how lame that sometimes sounds when you’re swimming the gray-dark sea of rejection—and you’re also not just in this for some magazine to publish your stuff. Yes, you want to share it, you want others to read it. But you’re writing because you have something to say. It doesn’t matter how loud and full of voices media and society seem to be—there are things not being noticed, things not being valued, and you need to stand up for them, to let them have their moment in the sun.

So here’s what this blog is going to be. As best I can, I’m going to make it a brighter spot on the internet, no matter how small a nook it occupies, no matter how few readers it collects. I’m going to talk about writing and stuff that I think is important (nature and education and art and living and laughing and so much else), but I’m also going to review books, movies, and maybe even games, because that’s what I’m into. But when I do it, I’m not going to be one of those people that seem to revel in finding the nastiest ways to put down a creative effort.

No, I’m not going to avoid pointing out shortcomings in what I’m reviewing, but I’m going to do my best to be generous, to see what the creator was trying to do. And appreciate it for that. It is possible, no matter how much the snark out there on youtube and reviewing sites makes it seem like it can’t be done.

More, I’m going to do my best to point out the good things I’m seeing in the world—be it what people are doing, saying, creating, or something in the natural world itself. Maybe things that people are even missing.

And I’m going to share what I did with my writing every week. Maybe it’ll lead me to share something interesting about the process, maybe I’ll just say “this week was terrible and needed to be done on Monday, but at least I got this story finished.” And that will be okay, because I’ll be reminding myself and anyone that cares to notice that it’s worth trying, that it’s worth keeping your eyes on the far off, hopeful horizon and avoiding the downward spiral of depression and hate.

*Thank you, Dessa, for that line. Mineshaft 2 is all too applicable here as well.