Inspiration is one thing. Quite another is the page-and-a-half past inspiration, when the fire that caught the first few pages, blazing through suspense-building and the first intriguing shadow of character, has burned itself low to embers and the realization sets in that there must be plot – and back story – and details that make sense together – and all of that is up to me.
This is when I start thinking about taking the dog for her third walk of the morning, even though she is asleep in a sunspot and will probably not want to be budged. Or maybe I should call my grandmother. I’ve been meaning to call her for about two years. Speaking of my phone, I’m getting sick of the factory ringtone, but I’ve been too busy to stop and figure out how to change it. I could do that now. I could do a lot of things now. I could clean my messy house. Wash the dishes. Pet the cat, who has been sitting just behind my computer, staring at me unblinking, for the better part of an hour.
Inspiration is one thing – one sizzling, startling, head-spinning, gut-grabbing wonder of a thing. Quite another are the pages in between.
People ask me where I get my ideas, and I tell them from my life, from my childhood, from something interesting I saw, from someone wonderful I met.
People ask me where I get my inspiration and I don’t know what to tell them. Inspiration is a mystery to me. It can be as simple as the temperature of the wind on my morning walk, or a word overheard in a crowd. It can come out of nowhere at all and spark a new story so powerful I can think of nothing else. I can do nothing but write feverishly, desperate to capture the story that always seems just out of reach ahead of me. I write like there is nothing else. I write like my characters' lives depend on it.
For about six pages.
Long about page seven … eight … nine … I start to notice the flaws and the plot gaps in the story I’m spinning. I start to think about how there are other, more definite things I ought to be doing. I start to think about how if I’ve lost inspiration this early, I may never find it again, and this story is doomed and will never be finished. I start to think about walking the dog.
I have learned, though, that inspiration is never truly missing. It has simply skipped ahead a page or two, or maybe even a couple of chapters, wanting to know what’s going to happen next, unwilling to wait for me to catch up. If I quit now, inspiration will finish the story without me and I will never get to know what happens. That fire will burn out, inspiration will slip away to some other writer with some other story, and I will never be able to catch up.
But if I keep writing -- even though I’m not feeling anything except frustration and despair and the cat’s eyes on me – any moment now I might turn the page and find inspiration waiting there, crouching behind some random paragraph, ready to grab me and sweep me away into an unexpected plot twist. It could even be on the very next page. Or the next page. Or the next.