Monday, February 01, 2010

Waiting For Inspiration

Waiting For Inspiration

The House of Goats now has about 25,000 words in it. For those non-writers out there, that means I'm roughly 1/4 done, assuming this doesn't turn into a doorstopper, or abruptly wraps up below the typical 60,000-120,000 word range (the lower end being for young adult, the upper for fantasy, 100,000 words being a fairly safe word count to aim for in any genre except YA) editors like to see. Skunk was just attacked by a cougar/mountain lion/puma and there's about to be a kitchen fire.

Ah yes, the good ol' days.

The DH and I spent most of the day writing. We took a break to do some chores outside the house and lo and behold, I'm doing writing at the library too.

I had a question from a post office worker the other day that I want to briefly address here.

"Do you go to the beach to write?" she asked. "Put your feet up, smell the ocean breezes, that sort of thing."
"Well, uh," I replied (not particularly brilliant, I know,) "whenever I get the chance, sure, but I try to write everywhere. The library, at home ... sometimes I take my laptop with me when I've got appointments and stuff too."
"So you write whenever inspiration strikes you."

And I nodded but I wanted to say no no no! Writers write all the time. Inspiration, sminspiration--if I waited for inspiration, or had to write only in certain places or certain times, I'd be doomed. I've noticed this is true of artists too. People who paint paint all the time. If they're stuck on a project, they set it aside and work on another, hoping that eventually they'll get unstuck and be able to finish the first one. Yes, there's pacing, and staring at the screen, and talking to yourself while in the bathtub, and in the grocery store with people looking at you funny ... all that. That much of the writer myth is true, but it's just a tiny piece of the writing life. If I spent most or all of my time doing that, I'd never get anything done.

Or to put it as my brilliant DH put it after we walked out of the post office, "So, does she need to be inspired to work at the post office?"

It's a job. It's an awesome job with some great perks, but also some real down sides. Until a writer treats it like a job, with all the work ethic stuff that goes along with it, making a living as a writer will be difficult, if not outright impossible. It would be easier to win the lottery, so the muse-reliant writer might as well buy lottery tickets while waiting for inspiration to strike.


C.S. said...

Wait a that Carey and Wizard sleeping together??

Kai Jones said...

She doesn't need to be inspired to work at the Post Office because she doesn't use her creativity there. She performs a series of tasks.

I don't need to be inspired to work as a legal secretary because other people direct my work for the most part. I'm not coming up with something out of thin air.

For those of us who believe we have no creativity, the idea that you could sit down and force yourself to imagine a story and then tell it is alien and it's hard to imagine just how you do it. We don't have the tools of writing (a clear understanding of plot, character, dialogue, how a story works as a coherent whole, how to advance the story through scenes) that you have.

I can cook from my imagination because I have the tools. I can taste flavor combinations in my imagination, I can decide which of many cooking techniques to use to get the end product I want, I have lots of ingredients to choose from, and I know in what order and for how long to combine them to achieve my goals. I don't have the analogous tools for writing--I'm not even sure what they are, let alone how to learn them and use them to tell a story. I don't make up stories in my head!

I watch my husband working on his writing and I haven't the first clue what he's doing. It seems like some miraculous process. And like most human beings, I have a naive admiration for people who can do something that I can't even imagine doing.

Kami said...

Yep, C.S., that is in fact It Runs In Front of Me half on the pillow and then Carey and Wizard snuggled together on our (formerly) clean laundry.

Great insights, Kai. It does seem like a magical process, but exactly as you say in cooking, you have the tools. I do think that working at the PO takes creativity though, although people may not see it that way. Especially in interacting with their customers. I've often marveled at how this particular person manages angry people, frustrated people, impatient people and people who can't seem to understand simple instructions in such a way that business gets done and (most) come away feeling like they've achieved their goals. The employees aren't really creating a physical product like a story or a recipe or a painting, but they're creating an emotional one. There are radical differences between my experiences at our home town post office and the one in Camas, not just with the volume of customers but how they present their forms/information, how they greet each person, and how they handle each transaction. Those differences, in part, are due to creative people skills.