I’ve gotten a lot of questions about inspiration since publishing Jackaby. What inspired me to write about X, Y, or Z; what do I do when I don’t feel inspired; where does inspiration come from? Inspiration is weird. Here’s my best advice on the subject.
Inspiration is a marvelous thing. There are times when whole storylines play out on the inside of my skull and I can just sit back and watch the show. Most of the time, however, the theater is closed. I can break in and make shadow-puppets on the screen, but it takes a lot more effort— and a good set of mental lock picks—to get the job done.
The fact is, sometimes you will not be inspired at all. Write anyway. If you insist on waiting for inspiration to strike, on waiting for the movie to start, then you will never develop the skills to run the projector all by yourself. The odd thing is, the stuff that comes from flashes of inspiration rarely looks any different than the stuff that you crank out the hard way. In fact, the stuff that you had to drag to the page one word at a time often outshines inspiration in the end.
Inspiration is fickle that way. Occasionally that brilliant idea you had in the dark of night turns out to be impressively terrible by the light of day. It sounded like such a good idea to turn your main character into an anthropomorphic brussel sprout at the time. I know it did. That’s because sleepy you is an idiot.
On the other hand, sleepy you might be an idiot savant, so don’t stop listening. Write down the inspired ideas that strike at two in the morning. Write them down RIGHT THEN. Good or bad, the only thing you will remember about them the next day will be telling yourself there was no way you’d forget them. You will remember doing THAT quite vividly. Nothing else.
Between the first draft and the final revision of Jackaby, I wrote in the middle of the night, I wrote between changing diapers, I wrote on two different hemispheres, and I wrote perched on stacks of unpacked moving boxes. I can tell you from experience, waiting for the magical alignment of available time and divine inspiration is as productive as waiting for someone else to write your story for you and then put your name on the top.
There’s nothing wrong with inspiration when it comes. Grab the unexpected matinee when you can. Sit back and enjoy the show. Just don’t assume the divine projectionist is the only one capable of telling your story.
Meet William Ritter, one of the 2015 PNBA Book Award Winners, at his award presentation ceremonyThursday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m., Knight Library Browsing Room, University of Oregon in Eugene, sponsored by The Duck Store.