Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Inspiration and Diligence

When I worked as an employee of a corporation, nobody used to expect me to be inspired, or to work only when the muse was with me. I was expected to show up whether I felt like it or not and get my work done.

As a fiction writer without a boss, I have to work by the same standard. After all, the books will not exist if I don't write them. Please don't misunderstand: I'm not blaming or putting down writers who can't write if the muse is not with them. But I do think that eventually, with practice, a serious writer has to get to the point of writing consistently, regardless of what the muse may be up to.

I recently picked a launch date for my upcoming short story collection, The Sandfruit People. And guess what? I have to actually finish the book, or it won't exist. The next step is to write a few more stories to round out the book. But at the rate these stories just come to me out of the blue, Sandfruit will probably be about five years late to its own launch party if I sit around waiting for the muse. So here's what I'm doing instead:
  1. I started with a few notes for each new story. There's going to be a general story arc to the whole book, and certain important events need to have their own stories. So these notes were somewhat dry and practical, a little bit like the outline of a history book.
  2. After that I look for the most interesting slant I can find on each story. I know what happens, but I need to find a compelling way to relate it. So I think about some of the people who would likely be involved in the story, and imagine telling it from their perspectives. When I find one that shows promise, I start writing notes on how this person would see the events as they unfold.
  3. If that person's point of view would show the events in an understandable and interesting way, then I think about the character and ask myself what his or her goal is, and how the events of the story would affect that goal. Sometimes the answers are obvious, while at other times I really have to think for a while before they become clear. But it's rare that I actually get to make them up, because there's usually a reason that particular character is in the ideal position to see the story unfold.
  4. Next, I come up with some of the details, such as a character's name or whether a particular scene happens in a bar, a supermarket or a nursery. Some of these decisions are made according to what I feel like at the moment, but most of the time there's only one choice that's best for the story.
  5. Step five is to find the perfect way to end each story, and I admit, this one really is best left up to the muse. But there are rituals that can be performed to invoke the muse. Mine seems to be drawn to water. You might be surprised how many endings I've found in a sink full of dishes.

1 comment:

  1. Mine seems to be fire.
    (campfires, mind you!)
    It's fascinating how different people find inspiration.