Inspiration is an important, but ultimately tiny part of writing a novel. Story blossoms are everywhere—in the lines of a book I’ve read, the shape of a tree I’ve seen, the experiences I’ve had, and the lifelong sojournings of my imagination. Inspiration is the wind that comes and sprinkles pollen onto one particular blossom. Then the capricious wind flits away, leaving me with the job of growing that blossom into a lush piece of fruit. I have to water the tree, protect the blossom from frost, keep the insects away, stop the birds from pecking the fruit, pray that the hail will not come and that the well will not run dry. This has little to do with inspiration and everything to do with steadfast work.
What keeps me writing after the initial inspiration is the great glory of revelation— those flashes of insight where I suddenly see what the story is really about, suddenly see who the character really is, suddenly see what that character should really be doing. Such revelations mean that my story has come alive and is now running on ahead of me. If I am lucky, if the work is a true one, the revelations come again and again as I chase after the true story.
Often this coming alive of the story means I have to abandon my initial inspiration. Perhaps I thought the blossom would become an apple, only to find it is really a peach. It can be gut-wrenching to abandon my inspiration. But I must, in order to see what is actually in front of me now, to see what the story has become and wants to become, rather than what I thought it was going to be. As a result of my own work and care, the story declares its independence from me. Like any parent, I must help it become what it was born to be, and must fight my reluctance to let it go.
When a writer honors the wonder and glory and kicking life of what she has miraculously created, then, with a kiss of blessing and thanks, she can let the capricious wind of inspiration blow away over another hill, and get on with the work at hand.