Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Inspiration Fairy (and other urban legends)

by Thomas Smith

It is said to haunt the dark recesses of our reality, flitting in and out just beyond the periphery of our vision. Silent as a shadow, ready to strike full-blown, with little or no warning. Some people wait their whole lives and claim never to have seen it. Others tell remarkable stories about their brushes with the creature, their lives never to be the same after the soul-stirring encounter.

Still others say it’s a load of cow cookies and you should be careful where you step.

Are they talking about Bigfoot?

No. I’ve seen actual pictures of the legendary Sasquatch right on the cover of The National Enquirer.

Could it be the Tooth Fairy?

Not likely. Somebody has to deliver the dimes for those missing molars and bygone bicuspids. And just like a hundred thousand dollar advance check, just because you’ve never seen one, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

No, the fictional creature most likely cooked up when some disgruntled writer received one rejection letter too many is none other than the illusive Inspiration Fairy. Many a fledgling writer has sat staring at a blank computer screen or a blank sheet of typing paper (I’m showing my age here…) waiting for something to happen. Waiting for their muse to send smoke signals above the tree line so that a certain tutu-clad bringer of words could swoop down and whack said writer upon the noggin with the Strunk & White Genuine Official Magic Word Wand (patent pending). Then the words will begin to flow like a NASCAR fan’s kidneys on lap one eighty-seven.


People who wait for this illusive creature are doomed to live a life of unfulfilled dreams and more than a few excuses as to why they don’t write any more than they do.

Thomas F. Monteleone said it this way: “Writing equals ass in chair." The corollary to that singular truth is: Writing is mostly luck: The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Which brings me back to the point. To be a professional writer takes putting hundreds of thousands of words on the page. It takes writing on a regular basis. Writing when you feel like it, and when you don’t. It takes relying on the sum total of your knowledge, your experience, your passions, your boredom, your triumphs, your tragedies, good meals, bad desserts, good friends, bad influences, lazy summer days and frosty winter nights. Faithful dogs, crisp autumn afternoons, sticky red candy apples at the county fair, and mining the whole kit and caboodle for the gems that lie buried within.

In short, writing takes sitting down and plunging in, not waiting for inspiration.
The need to write is inspiration enough. The wealth of living, loving, and life itself stored inside you is more than enough fodder for more stories, articles, plays, greeting cards, cereal boxes, books, songs, and cereal boxes than you can possibly write in your lifetime.

We all have stories inside us. We all have the raw materials needed to translate thought to the written word. We all have the ability to think, to reason, to research, to dream, to take a random thought or idea and turn it into an article, essay, story, play, greeting card, bumper sticker, or novel. And the finished product doesn’t rely on anything other than the God-given talents and abilities you already have within you.

Your challenge is to learn to access the ability at will. And that comes with practice.

Lots of practice.

You don’t need to wait for the Inspiration Fairy to sprinkle inspiration dust on your noggin.

You need to write.

And write.

And write some more.

A writer writes. It’s what we do. We write when we feel like it, and when we don’t. We write in a white-hot torrent of words that seem to come from nowhere and everywhere, and we write when every word feels like you’re giving birth to a Pterodactyl.

My mentor (and close friend for over twenty years), the late Charles L Grant, gave the keynote address at a writers conference a number of years ago, and said some things that shook many of the people in the room either out of their complacency, or out of the notion they wanted to be a writer. He said:

“There is a difference in being an author and being a writer. For the better part of the day I have talked with some nice people about being a writer. I have signed about fifty books, I had lunch with a number of you and listened to you talk about your writing projects, and I am up here now talking about what it is like to be a working writer.
That’s being an author.

“But when I go back to my room tonight, while many of you are hanging out in the lounge talking about writing, or at the open mic session reading your work, I am going to be in my room trying my dead-level best to fix a real mess I have created. I have painted my protagonist into a corner and I have no idea how I am going to get him out of it. But I will figure it out tonight before I go to sleep, because I have to have the book finished by tomorrow night so I can send it to my wife [a professional editor] and have her edit the last three chapters. Then I have to send it to the publisher by Monday. And I am going to wrestle that bear to the ground because I don’t have a choice. I have a house payment and a car payment to make and this is how I have made them for over twenty years.

That’s being a writer.”

You see, people who wait for the Inspiration Fairy tend to publish very little, but they have some great stories … about waiting for the Inspiration Fairy.


Ane Mulligan said...

It always amazes me when I sit down and start to type that after a while, the muse feels left out and comes out to play. ;)

Michael Ehret said...

I cannot be reminded of this too often ...

Shari England said...

Oh thanks. I needed this today. And I cracked up on "Then the words will begin to flow like a NASCAR fan’s kidneys on lap one eighty-seven." Good job!