Inspiration Series

Inspiration Series – Star Spider

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It’s taken me a long time to write this post because although I find inspiration insanely interesting, I think the truth is I’m a little scared of it. It’s so skittish I sometimes feel that if I speak too loud I’ll scare it away. It’s an almost superstitious relationship I have with my inspiration even though I’m not usually a superstitious person. Inspiration makes me want to knock on wood, carry a lucky charm, cross my fingers. I feel like my inspiration is a thing that’s not really a part of me, even though that’s a ludicrous notion.

The idea of inspiration is completely fascinating to me. I often wonder why it takes the shapes it does. How can one person be lyrically inspired while another is more visual? Where does inspiration come from? Is it just our minds solving problems in an artistic way or is there something more at work—some divine muse perhaps? Probably not.

My inspiration is definitely skittish. I’m a one-trick-at-a-time pony. I work hard to find stories and once I have them I wrestle with them until they take shape, become a real thing. Then I write them and BAM, they’re done and it’s almost as if they were never mine in the first place. It’s a fleeting relationship.

I say I work hard to find my stories and it’s the truth, but I probably shouldn’t. Some studies suggest that inspiration is more of an unbidden experience, that it just happens when you’re open and observing, and I find that to be completely true. Most of my stories sneak up behind me when I’m not looking, but even still I can’t relax enough to wait for them. I get impatient and start searching and that just stresses me out and probably slows down the whole process. It’s just who I am though—impatient for inspiration.

As for finding stories, they live everywhere. I find most of them outside on long, meandering thinky kind of walks. They hide in corners and they tend to only take form when I look at them directly. My stories exist in a quantum state, subject to the observer effect.

Stories are like sacred objects—meaningless until we fill in the blanks, assign them a mythology. Nothing in the world ever started out as anything of specific significance, but when we humans get our hands on things we tend to try to make them profound. Humans are great for making the mundane sacred. And that’s all a story is; a moment, a concept or an object made profound by a writer.

I constantly struggle with my inspiration and every time I finish a story or a novel I tell myself I won’t push the next idea. I’ll keep myself open and just let it come to me. But that never works for long, I get stressed about my lack of inspiration and go looking. Sometimes I’m fruitful and sometimes I just depress myself. I guess I have an artistic temperament—ever the tortured soul searching for my next sacred story.

Inspiration is an amazing thing but it can also be insanely frustrating.

So I’ll just have to cross my fingers and wish on a star that my next story finds me before I have to go out looking for it.

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Inspiration Series

Inspiration Series – PLM Sagara

 

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It can and has happened at any time and anything can spark it…i might be on the streetcar or walking by the Greenwood Park dog park, in the shower or lying in bed (waiting for sleep to come)…i may overhear someone calling their dog—“Murder” or “Chocolate”—no this hasn’t actually happened-although i have heard someone call “Laverne!” and “Shirley!”, but this got me thinking too about the names for dogs or even cats—really there are no limits to what you can you can name your pet or even your boat.. .are there(?) and thinking of cats, i’ve overheard and i have written about this too…my neighbours’ cat moving around in its’ litter box…and while riding the streetcar and here’s something else i’ve written about—i once saw a guy walking on Carlton near Yonge pick up a cigarette butt and put it between his lips…so, like i said anything can set my brain in motion and start writing…even those many random thoughts that flit and wander through my mind on my many sleepless nights—like “the minions in “Despicable Me” look like yellow pills or tic tacs or “i’m glad Brad Rutter” won on “Jeopardy!” over Ken Jennings or maybe a purple-people eater only eats purple people…

Having these many thoughts wandering around in my mind is the reason why i carry more than a few pens and paper (you never know when a pen may run out of ink—i’ve written about this too) around with me at all times much to the annoyance and curiosity of friends, family, acquaintances and total strangers since i don’t have a handheld device or portable laptop i can tote around with me (and a lousy memory) because with me i never necessarily know when i may see, (over)hear or think about something that may get my brain going on a tangent (and believe you/me once i go off on one of my tangents, they’re not easy to stop)…

~

plm sagara was born and raised in the wilds of TO. Her obsessions include writing, monkeys, perfectionism and “Jeopardy!” She longs for the day when she can move to somewhere in outer space like Ganymede or Io. plmsagara@yahoo.ca

Inspiration Series

Inspiration Series – Jennifer Pendergast

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If you follow a well-known religion, I imagine it’s easy to answer the question “What do you believe?” At least it’s easy to give a brief answer, even if it is far from complete. For me, there hasn’t been a short answer since I started really thinking about what I believed, and really being honest about it.

And the same is true when I try to answer questions about my inspiration for writing. In her calls for submissions to this series, Star referred to the “almost spiritual” nature of inspiration, and that phrase really struck a chord for me.

The simple answer to where I get my inspiration from is “my head”.  My ideas can come as dreams, daydreams or random thoughts; they often arrive as phrases or concepts, sometimes characters and very occasionally as plots or stories. But where do those things come from? Your guess is as good as mine. I refer to The Muse as a shorthand for something I don’t really understand, in much the same way I might occasionally refer to God, although I don’t picture any particular entity when I use that word.

For me, the interesting thing is not the arrival of the original idea, but the process that turns it into a story. With the possible exception of dreams, my initial ideas are no more than snippets, in need of a great deal of development before they will become even the shortest stories.

When the writing flows best, it feels like a sort of transcribing, perhaps a stream of consciousness, although my writing would never be described as that by a reader. I write stories like I write non-fiction, by just letting the words flow, seeing where they take me, and then tidying them up into something more coherent after the fact.

Some writers talk about “Movies in my mind”. I have no mind’s eye – I could not, for example, give you a reliable physical description of someone I know well, let alone someone or something I’ve imagined. But when a story flows well, this transcribing does come close to something like a movie in my mind, or perhaps a radio play: sounds, words and emotions, but no pictures.

When the writing isn’t flowing, I try to write anyway, and then it’s more about joining the dots, working out where I want the story to go and how it’s going to get there. This is how I write when I’ve drawn up an outline first (something I think has advantages and disadvantages, and which is worthy of a post of its own). Writing to an outline feels much less natural, but it’s still an organic process, because the outline never has the richness and detail of the writing itself, and eventually the characters, places and storylines still take on a life of their own.

One place I both do and don’t get inspiration is real life, and in particular the real people I know. Anyone who knows a writer has probably wondered if they’ll end up in a story, or even asked to, and I can’t answer for other writers, but for me they answer is mostly no, but with a little bit of yes.

As a rule, I find real people far too restrictive. I want to write fiction, not fact, and I want to write the stories The Muse gives me, not the ones I’m already living. And that’s before you get only people’s feelings. If I wrote a character even loosely based on someone I knew, I’d be too worried about upsetting them, or getting things wrong, to really enjoy the writing process. Obviously there will always be name overlaps or relationships that mirror those in my life, but I choose names because they fit a character, not to link them to a real person. I normally say if a character has your name, you can guarantee they won’t have any other facets I particularly associate with you.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that I occasionally use an anecdote or characteristic from someone I know, to flesh out an established character who I’m clear it would work for. Real life, whether an overheard conversation on a train, or an old memory of my own, can inspire elements of a story, even the story itself. Very occasionally I go so far as to play the ‘what if?’ game in my stories, and to wonder what would have happened if a single moment in my life or someone’s close to me, had gone another way. I imagine that’s a game all humans play, but as writers, we get to play it out on paper.

Jennifer Pendergast writes principally for the love of the story, but is gradually building her portfolio and seeking publication of her short stories whilst polishing several draft novels with a view to publication in the longer term. She was delighted when two of her stories were featured in the Canadian edition of Reader’s Digest. Her weekly flash fiction and thoughts on writing can be found at her blog www.elmowrites.wordpress.com.