My Actual Process: Inspiration

Part 1 of I Don't Know

The thought I had this morning that I suspect happens to a lot of writers: Oh, thank goodness, I have another story idea.

I've been working on/wrestling with/occasionally staring despondently at my Stuffed Animal Detective Agency novel(s) for over a year now, with almost no breaks to work on anything else. But then an open anthology call came my way last week, and I thought this would be a good chance for me to stretch my writing legs and try out something else to make sure I don't fall into a rut. So I started poking at ideas, and a couple pieces floated together, and I thought they sounded appropriately electric. So I sat down to try to get at least a rough sketch in my head of what I wanted to do, and...

Nothing. Or rather, something, but that something was a yawning gray void of ideas, occupied only by a reptilian creature that represents the sensation that once I finish writing the Stuffed Animal Detective Agency books, I am going to be completely out of ideas.

I'm not saying anything new when I say creativity is a mystery. There'ssome accepted wisdom about how to spark it, such that there's a whole little cottage industry of inspirational tools, but figuring out how to inspire yourself is a highly individualistic matter, requiring a lot of work and a lot of failure to eventually get right. For me, routine helps. Schedules help, from blocking time for research to calendar alerts for outlines and rough drafts and first drafts and so on. Writing first thing on Saturday tends to go well. Scheduling two days off from writing a week is important so it becomes something I sometimes miss doing. I'm definitely a planner, not a pantser, and to that end the methods laid out in 2k to 10k tend to be effective for me. And all of that structure really works: I do not remember the last time I had writer's block. But just because it hasn't happened in a while does not mean that the specter of it is absent from my life. Every time I get a new anthology invite, or I have the spark of an idea for a new novel, the same thought occurs to me on some level, from conscious to the deep subconscious: What if this is the last drive around the block?

It's not like I've always had ideas for stories, and it's not like the ideas I had earlier in my career were consistently good ideas -- I did my time toiling under a lot of shibboleths about Good Writing, and I wrote my fair share of stories about struggling writers who saved the world with writing or fought anthropomorphic personifications of writer's block. And as I look at the careers of some of the writers I really love and respect I definitely see a few who have fallen into ruts, who have stopped producing as prolifically, whose work I have just fallen out of love with, and I worry that maybe that's the path I will eventually find myself on...

It hasn't happened. And there is a decent chance it won't happen. But at least yesterday, when I was brainstorming with my wife and I managed to scribble out a couple pages of notes and quotes and concepts to research, I had to look at that flood of relief at another story idea appearing, and accept that the presence of that feeling confirms the presence of its opposite. The fear that eventually this writing engine in my head is going to sputter out is very real, and staying cognizant of that is necessary to keep it from consuming me.

Why am I sharing this? Because maybe you needed to know you're not alone.

I hope it helps.