Friday, October 30, 2009

Pearson on Inspiration

Mary Pearson, author of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, ponders the niceties of inspiration over at Excerpts:

I think when most people ask what the inspiration for a story is, they are usually wanting to know what the initial spark was -- what got the gears going in the first place? Even that can be tricky to answer, because a spark does not a whole book make. And sparks come in all sorts of forms from the subtle, to the dramatic. With A Room on Lorelei Street, the spark was simply an image of a tired house, a tired girl, and a few opening lines -- subtle but intriguing for me -- and when this image and voice wouldn't go away I decided I wanted to learn more about this girl. With The Adoration of Jenna Fox, the spark was more dramatic—questions I had asked myself when my own daughter had faced a life-threatening illness. With The Miles Between it was a curiosity about coincidence and how it plays into our lives.

But with all of these stories, I was still faced with a whole book to write beyond the initial spark. A long, whole book. The spark was not the whole story. Where to go from there? There is a Jack London quote that says, "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." And that's where the rest of the inspirations come in. As I said before, writing a book is a long process. More often than not, you do not feel inspired, but you show up for work. You face the blank page with your club in hand. The inspirations, large and small, come between the dry, keyboard-pounding daily effort of trying to find your way.
Read the whole thing. Person goes on to chronicle a series of small inspirations (a full fifteen, actually) that coalesced into her latest novel. It's a process that's about as far from the popular perception of the single, blinding flash of artistic insight as you can get. I found it enlightening, an antidote to the old idea -- I suspect it's a hang-on from the Romantic period -- that the truly creative can tap into a vein flowing with pure imaginative insight whenever they very well please. We need to be reminded that writing is a process, an experiment riddled with trial and error, a slow smolder rather than a fast burn.

(Picture: CC 2006 by


Scattercat said...

I think of inspiration as a sort of collection, like a hobby. Little trinkets; a sound, an image, a question, a phrase. Odds and ends. I pick them up all the time. It's like walking the streets looking for loose change. Not so much a careful scrutiny as just a sort of awareness, a subconscious receptivity to impressions.

I keep them in a room, or a drawer, or maybe just a pile in my head. Sometimes things float up on their own and fall into the right place. Sometimes I have to go rooting through the drawer looking for the piece I need today.

The important aspect of this, I think, is that while the bits and bobs and doodads come from outside, from things I see or hear or read, putting them together and in the right order is where the magic of inspiration really is.

Loren Eaton said...

Well, I've been continually impressed by the range of ideas that show up in your flitterflic. Tell me, do you ever employ a commonplace book? I have one. Without it, those scraps of paper or thoughts in my head invariably get lost. The day's routine just crowd them right out.

Scattercat said...

I don't like to write things down. It pins them in place. It makes looking for the inspiration into a connect-the-dots or a logic puzzle, which just isn't how I work at all. (You know the Myers-Briggs tests? I usually come out nearly 100% Intuitive and Feeling over Sensory and Thinking.)

No, my inspiration pool is a bowl of gumbo, with strange bits bobbing up and down. Sometimes bits sink to the bottom forever and never resurface, and I'm okay with that. I think they improve the overall tang of the stew in some indefinable way.

Loren Eaton said...

That makes sense. I do keep one, but usually it only serves to job my memory. You're right, the ideas do go wooden as soon as you right them down. But (to borrow your metaphor) in my bowl of gumbo, most of the bits sink down to the bottom, never to be seen again. Without something to scoop them back up, it would be very thin broth, indeed. I have no idea where this would place me on Myers Briggs, but I suspect I'm not very intuitive at all, alas.