One of the most common challenges faced by fiction writers is keeping the inspiration going. Writers are asked constantly how they stay inspired or how they were inspired to write a particular story. Here’s my theories on inspiration and what inspires me.
Fiction writing is a long process, especially getting the first book out into the universe. Most everyone who knows me, knows I threw my first three novels in the trash. My first stab at fiction writing spanned ninety-five thousand words, the second book, about seventy-five thousand and by the time I got to the third one, I threw in the towel, realizing at around forty thousand words I had nothing close to a compelling piece of work.
I printed big chunks of these books out as I re-worked and edited them, which serves me well when my kids complain about having to re-write an assignment for school. I simply point to my four reams of paper stacked up in the corner of my office and say, “You’re upset about re-writing how many paragraphs?” (It’s an awesome tool. It totally works every time).
Anyhow, I know you’re asking what inspired me to start again the fourth time around? What kept me from getting discouraged (and going completely insane)? Passion. The same passion every person has within them to achieve a huge goal in life. My theory is this: People who have a true passion for something work quietly, in secret and they don’t complain. They don’t publicly announce how hard they’re working, how many times they started a small business and failed, how many hours they spent in classrooms or working as an intern for little to no money. They keep at it, over and over and over again, until they get it right, until they succeed.
I think we all (myself included) walk around with this notion that success is what inspires people, when in fact, the most successful people in the world failed — a lot — and somehow found inspiration in their failures, seeing failure as part of the process, the journey towards success. To me, each book wasn’t a failure, it was part of my apprenticeship, a step in the right direction. Did I feel ticked off and frustrated? Yep. Did I want to take my computer and throw it against the wall and scream and yell? Um, yeah. But I also knew I wasn’t going to stop until I got it right. So, I got some rest, got up the next day, poured a big cup of coffee and went back in.
I also read alot of books on writing and I’m still reading books on how to write fiction (I think I’m on my sixteenth or so, can’t remember, lost track). Most all fiction writers struggle with the first novel because fiction writing is as individual as the voice of the author. No two writers have the exact same system and the first novel helps establish some sort of systematic approach to putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. Books on how to write fiction always give me new ways of looking at the craft, kind of like re-arranging the furniture in my house.
And, if what I just said here doesn’t inspire you this will: This morning, I was listening to NPR while packing up my kids’ lunches (my normal 6 am routine). J.K. Rowling was being interviewed about her newest book, The Casual Vacancy. She said it took her five years to write the book. See? Feel better? I certainly do. How validating and inspiring is that?
So now that I’ve completed and published my first book, what keeps me pushing the words out each week? What inspires me to sit down and write? My characters. They inspire me. I love writing them and spending time with them. They are real to me, and I know this sounds like the people in the white coats should come knocking at my door, but honestly, I think writers have to love their characters, otherwise the reader won’t. Books have the power to change people’s lives for the better and I’m inspired by characters who can help us figure out how to do that.
I’m also inspired by other writers. I strive to be as good as my idols, Pat Conroy, Augusten Burroughs, Laurie Halse Anderson, Ellen Hopkins, Sara Zarr, Carolyn Mackler, I could go on and on. I read other writers’ work and their words inspire me to keep working and keep growing as an artist.
And finally, here’s the not so exciting news on how I stay inspired to write: I set goals for my writing (as I should for my exercising, but that’s another topic altogether). And if I don’t make my writing goal for the week, I don’t beat myself up. I forge ahead. Next week will be better, it usually is. And some days the words don’t come as quickly, so I find myself checking my word count a little more often than other days, but I don’t stop writing for the day until I reach my goal.
So there’s my theory on inspiration. Hope I’ve inspired you as much as so many writers have inspired me. And don’t forget to hop on over to the awesome Kristina Perez’s blog where you’ll find a whole slew of inspiration!