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.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.
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.
(Picture: CC 2006 by _Teb)