I’m not tipsy for this one. 😛 I debated putting this up–err, not because it’s controversial or anything, but just because it’s thinky and personal. But… I sort of really like the post. And I hope it might be interesting. So up it goes.
The other day (or, um, the other month) when I asked for ideas for blog posts about writing, Laura Bailo suggested a whole list of questions, and one of them was, ‘Where do you get your inspiration?’ And I started writing about a bunch of things and then I got totally stuck. And then I was doing the #ReadWritePlan (which was tons of fun) and that was also a topic. And I got stuck again. The thing is, inspiration is something I get asked about a lot. And I think I answer differently every time. (Err, before I write any more, let me just say that I really *enjoy* getting asked this question. I enjoy talking about writing in general all the time. I’m just not sure I ever answer it correctly.) I’m not… actually sure I know what inspiration means to me.
When I hear the word inspiration, I think of two things. First, that inspiration is primarily a positive thing. And second, that it strikes all at once. Like a lightning bolt that comes down and jolts you with this URGE TO CREATE, this excitement about doing whatever it is you’re doing, and you sit and write and words flow out like you turned on a tap. And for me, inspiration is not always positive, and it’s never a lightning bolt. (I realize that neither of these things are actually involved in the definition of inspiration, but… I also feel like some words or ideas invoke different feelings or meanings than they’re technically defined by.)
I also think that I tend to conflate ‘ideas’ with ‘inspiration,’ and they’re not… quite the same thing. For me.
When I was writing the original inspiration post, I started talking about what spurred me to write Half and Escaping Indigo, the two books I have out at this moment, and I realized that… the things that made me want to write those books were… sort of terrible. I wrote Half because a friend of mine had passed away, and I couldn’t get life and death out of my head. And I started writing Escaping Indigo because, a) I was told by agents that Half was too weird and I figured I needed to write something more ‘normal,’ (ha!) and b) I was clawing my way out of a depression, and I was tired of not seeing the way I experienced depression and anxiety on the page, and I wanted so desperately to be able to say to someone, ‘I am depressed,’ and have them say, ‘Okay.’ Not give me ten thousand solutions, not tell me to be happy. Just… be okay with it. So I decided to write it.
But you can’t answer the question, ‘Where do you get your inspiration from?’ by saying, ‘Dead friends and anxiety.’ First, that’s depressing as fuck and makes my books sound depressing, too, when, what I aim for (and who knows if I’m successful at) is to take those not so happy things and create something that’s hopeful and happy and, maybe even, joyful, with them. Second, it conflicts with my own basic ideas about inspiration. Those things aren’t positive, at the start. They don’t strike all at once. And I wasn’t always really excited to write about those subjects. I needed to write about them, and it was very important to me to write them the way I did, but it wasn’t always fun to write about. Sometimes it was, because it was cathartic and gives a measure of control, and helps me think things through. And, at its core, writing is fun for me. But it’s scary to dig that deep inside yourself or into those ideas. But that also, for me, is sometimes what makes it worth writing about.
Can you actually call that inspiration, though? I feel like we think–or I think–that inspiration is this magical, mythical thing of goodness and incredible creativity. But for me, inspiration is rooted more in every day things. And that seems more like ideas and motivation to me. Which is probably what inspiration actually is, and I’m overthinking all of this and using it as an excuse to write a blog post. But these are also… not good ways to write complete, whole books. A ton of other inspirations went into each of them to get them to the Whole Book stage—in Half, I wanted to write about the fey, and yokai, I wanted to write about Luca’s relationship with his sister, I wanted to write about Los Angeles, weirdly—there is no LA in the book. In Escaping Indigo I wanted to write about music and the power it has, I wanted to write, very much, about how you might have to redirect your life when your direction is suddenly gone, or when you don’t want the same things anymore. I wanted to write about small venues and back alleys. So, again, not a lightning bolt. More like a tumbling together of ideas. Like, maybe, all these tiny snippets of inspiration coming together to form something that actually makes sense.
Before I wrote Skin Hunger, I had some ideas brewing about Ava and her romantic interest and what her story might be, but nothing concrete. Then I took a plane across the country to visit family. We had a stop in Florida, so we ended up flying out over the Atlantic Ocean as the sun set. And the water and the clouds and all that space, all lit up in pink and blue and gold by the sun, was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It made me feel so alive. And it made me want to put that feeling down on paper. That, for me, is inspiration. This zing, this powerful urge to write, to describe something. But it’s aimless, largely, and it’s wildly difficult to sustain for any period of time or on any regular basis.
When we landed that evening, it was dark, and as we came in and I saw all the lights of the city spread out beneath us, all I could think about, before we’d even touched down, was how badly I wanted to go home. How much I didn’t belong in that place anymore. That, more than anything, was how I came up with the central idea for Ava’s story.
I guess, when I think about inspiration, the question means to me something like, ‘What is so important to you, what are you so passionate about, that you can make yourself sit and write an entire book?’ And for me the answer is that, whether I’m writing fluff or something serious, I want to write about stuff that means something to me, and I want to connect with other people. Connecting is basically the entire point behind flinging my writing out into the world. Maybe that’s conceited, but I think it’s… hopeful, too. Connecting with people inspires me. As the Silversun Pickups said, “It’s so fun to relate.” Writing about things I love, or things that are important to me, inspires me. Getting to explain myself to myself, through my writing, the ability to tease out emotions and pull them apart and try to understand them through writing, inspires me. Getting to explore new things, things I’d never heard about, getting to learn things, looking outside myself and my own experiences, inspires me. And, being able to see stories in everything, in the good and the bad, in the positive and the negative, in anger and joy, in the small, quiet spaces, inspires me.
I know that sometimes, for me, inspiration is missing a friend.
Sometimes, inspiration is reading an amazing book and wanting to write something that comes even marginally close to that gorgeousness.
Sometimes inspiration is standing in a back alley outside a concert venue, inhaling secondhand cigarette smoke.
Sometimes, inspiration is writing about something that makes me so angry I see red.
Sometimes, inspiration is about loneliness and not having any other outlet.
Sometimes, inspiration is about seeing something beautiful, in a way I never expected.
Sometimes, inspiration is about writing something simply because it makes me happy.
So I guess that’s my answer.