Monday, September 9, 2013
Who's the Boss?
Writing fiction is all about inspiration. Novelists are inspired as to subject, theme, characterization, and every other aspect of the creative process when it comes to producing a novel---as is true with any other artist of any other art form. As novelists, we create something out of nothing, and that something usually begins as a zygote of an idea that gestates into a finished product. That takes inspiration, and lots of it.
We tend to think of inspiration as some nebulous thing that strikes when all perfect conditions converge, and that our creative forces are at its mercy, that we're hamstrung to proceed and produce without it. In a way, that's true. I've been "inspired" to write certain novels, and to write certain passages within those novels, and you have too. It feels wonderful when inspiration does its thing, and I for one give credit where credit is due---which means to say, not myself. But inspiration is sort of like a nudge that gets you going. It will not, and will never, take you by the hand and walk you through the process from start to finish.
Ayn Rand, in The Art of Fiction, says this about inspiration: "What is colloquially called 'inspiration' ---namely, that you write without full knowledge of why you write as you do, yet it comes out well---is actually the subconscious summing-up of the premises and intentions you have set yourself. All writers have to rely on inspiration. But you have to know where it comes from, why it happens, and how to make it happen to you." Did you get that last phrase, how to make it happen to you? That implies that we're not at the mercy of inspiration; rather it's something we can rein in and manage. (As an aside, Ms. Rand also said, "In regards to precision of language, I think I myself am the best writer today." To which I wrote in the margin, "Hmm." But more power to her.)
That may not be good news to the person who lacks the motivation to complete a project, because there goes the excuse for not getting to the finish line. But for those of us who are serious about our craft, who have the wherewithal to roll up our sleeves and get 'er done, in the inspired language of my son-in-law Justin, it means we can and should control the process. We can plant our behinds wherever it is we choose to write, and get to work, anytime, for any length of time, and be happy with our accomplishments.
For me, and probably for you too, inspiration is most necessary at the inception of a novel, at that place where story is just the cell of an idea with unlimited potential. Once that story gets off the ground and I get into the story world, craft, skill and experience take over, and I'm in charge. I don't have to wait for inspired thought and language to drop into my head ... I go after them with all the tools I possess. Ms. Rand says, "I have written many scenes which I did not plan in advance, beyond a general definition that 'this scene will accomplish such and such a purpose'---yet when I came to them, they wrote themselves." So have I. She does not mean, nor do I, that she was the conduit of some other creative force, as if someone or something were dictating to her; rather that she utilized the tools and skills we've been talking about to write an inspired scene.
Writing a novel is a daunting challenge. That was true of the first novel I wrote, and has been just as true of every novel I've written since. It takes great determination and steady work, and cannot depend on "inspiration" for every word that's written. The inspiration is the nudge as I said before, but then the writer takes over from there. The key is to consider that you as a writer are inspired to write, and that the idea of your writing is inspired; but you, the writer, wield that inspiration, and not the other way around. When you sit at your desk to work, do so with the knowledge and confidence that the goal you set is achievable, and that you're in charge of the outcome. As with any skill, the more you exercise it the better you'll become. So write, write, write. Whether you feel inspired or not. Because the accomplishment itself may be just the inspiration you need.