Thursday, May 31, 2012

For Writers

Inspiration vs. Pepperoni Pizza

“That is the way with art, when it is not acquired but born to you: you start in to make some simple little thing, not suspecting that your genius is beginning to work and swell and strain in secret, and all of a sudden there is a convulsion and you fetch out something astonishing. This is called inspiration.”  Mark Twain

You’ve had this happen. A television commercial comes on and the woman encouraging you to buy the greatest diet plan of all time is the very model of what you want to be; slim, trim, energetic and altogether lovely. She sweeps her hand over her before and after pictures and the contrast blows you away. And there’s an unbelievable limited time offer besides. You sit up in your chair as something begins to work and swell and strain in secret; you could be like that – again. Sure, you’re middle-aged, but so what? And the time to act is Now! Because this deal may not come again.

So right then and there you vow to be better. You’ll buy this diet plan and get yourself into a fighting weight by next spring or your birthday or . . . well, fill in the blank. You’re inspired and motivated to a ridiculous degree – until – your best friend bounces through the front door with a hot pepperoni pizza and a bottle of your favorite wine. Then, from the dizzying heights of raw emotion and courage, you come crashing down to earth as you’re confronted with the reality of a friend and a yummy pizza. I’ll bet this even happened to Mark Twain.

Many writers will attest to the fickleness of inspiration. You’ve got it one minute and it’s gone with the cheese and the sauce the next. Is there any way to capture and keep it? Um – no. But you can build up your defenses to fight off the giant pepperoni pizza of de-inspiration when it sneaks up behind to rob and plunder. Here’s a ploy or two that may help.

  1. Be on the lookout – Inspiration can come upon you by stealth. Sometimes you’re acting in a highly inspired way without realizing it. Three days a week I watch a little girl for her schoolteacher mother. To keep us both from being bored comatose, I have to come up with inspired play at every turn – like with bed pillows. One afternoon, while playing school, I asked little girl to tell me some of the things we use pillows for. She said one thing and I countered. We fed off each other until the subject was exhausted. Pillow fights, doll bed, a soft chair, wall for a fort – on and on we went, laughing all the way. Next we did blankets and the dawn came slowly; could I get a series of picture books out of this spontaneous play? Why, there were myriad inanimate objects to choose from! It was a cosmic moment.
  2. Forget the fame, seize the fortune – Poverty can be a great, great motivator. If the numbers in your bank account are huddling together for warmth, you must write. That’s what Charles Dickens did. Think about it. Maybe Mr. D wasn’t in the thrall of the muse the whole time he wrote Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, but he did it anyway. The man had ten children to support, after all. He got on with the job until the job paid the bills. Write until you sell something and that selling will keep inspiration and motivation trotting along beside you.
  3. Stare out the window – Good grief, what kind of advice is this? I read it once and do it often. Why? Because it relaxes the mind, letting all the good stuff step forward. Soon your hands will drift to the keyboard as a sudden convulsion fetches out something astonishing. It’s hard to believe, I know, but inspiration and motivation come right through the glass as you stare. Try it.

These three things are a writer’s Trinity of Triumph, beating back defeat whenever they’re tried. Of course there are days when there are no pillows, lack of money or clean windows to look out of. But, come on, how often does that happen all in one day?  And if your friend pops in the door next week with a hot pepperoni pizza, thank her, take a slice for later and send her packing. Just say you and Mr. D are looking out the window trying to figure out how your series about household objects is going to thrill children and boost your bank account. Inspiration wins.

More inspiring famous author quotes:

“I write to escape ... to escape poverty.” Edgar Rice Burroughs

Only a mediocre writer is always at his best.” W. Somerset Maugham

“It's a damn good story. If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check.”  Erle Stanley Gardner

“All writing is creating or spinning dreams for other people so they won't have to bother doing it themselves.” Beth Henley
“Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”  Harper Lee

"You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written.  And then, if it's going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children."  Madeleine L'Engle

Note: Written for the ICL newsletter in 2011

Image: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul                                  


  1. What an inspirational article... what an inspirational writer YOU are! Thank you!

  2. Sue,

    Great food for thought here! I especially agree with # 2. Trust me, there are only so many ways you can fix up Ramen Noodles. LOL

  3. Thanks for stopping by, ladies. Mmmm - Ramen Noodles. I actually have a great Bok Choy salad recipe that uses them. LOL