I – The Intersection of Inspiration and Ideas in Writing


“Turning I would to I did is the grammar of growing up.”
― Anthony Marra, The Tsar of Love and Techno

I just returned from a Tommy Emmanuel concert, so I’m on a bit of an inspiration high. In fact, during his concert, in between managing a solo operation of bass and melodies and rhythms and that constant motion of music, he said: I think life itself is a pretty good source of inspiration. He went on, however, to explain that he gets inspiration from anywhere or anything, and then proceeded to play a song that was inspired by a movie he’d seen—and particularly a character within it.

I find it interesting how artists of all breeds manage to take the everyday idea and craft it into something artistic. This intersection of inspiration and life—of finding our ideas from the lives we live every day—eventually becomes the foundation of our characters’ inner worlds, the words on the page, the stories we long to tell. I also find it interesting that many creative pieces are founded not so much even on general life—but on the people living it.

On another note, I recently read Anthony Marra’s “The Tsar of Love and Techno,” a collection of interconnected short stories that thematically revolve around one painting and the way it and the place it portrays affect a handful of characters’ lives over the course of several decades, primarily in Siberia and Chechnya. The story weaves together time and place and people, binding them though many don’t realize how they’ve been bound, and I remember putting it down after reading the final page, thinking: Wow. We’ve come full circle.

I have a special fascination and appreciation for the connectedness of ideas, especially when an author can craft a story that casts this link like a subtly shifting shadow: it never quite leaves your vision, but when the sun hits it just right, you catch a clear, glimmering fragment of truth. You start to wonder how you never saw it before: that way it holds you still.

Life is like this. We see it all in fragments. Ideas are much the same way. Inspiration, too, is often a ghost. Occasionally seen, but always fleeting. We have to carve our own paths and make our own inspiration, and if by chance, we have one of those moments where the words are clear and the music is alive, we should jump on the chance to complete the process.

Everything comes full circle. We are inspired by life and we find shadows of ideas simply by living it. Hopefully, we write them down, and in doing so we turn our I woulds into I dids, creating pieces we can be proud of, connecting ideas and building systems to complete a concert others will long to return to again and again: for the characters, for the music. For the voice that will hold them still.

What inspires you to write?


H – Heart

Do the things that interest you and do them with all your heart. Don’t be concerned about whether people are watching you or criticizing you. The chances are that they aren’t paying attention to you.
Eleanor Roosevelt

There’s so much I could say in respect to this quote, so many directions this quote could take us. Paring down all that could (and perhaps should) be said is no easy task, and most of it is simply restating what Eleanor Roosevelt already said.

From all that I’ve read and all of the people I’ve talked to, hesitation in embracing a creative practice of any kind comes down to fear. There’s fear of the unknown, fear of disappointing ourselves, and most common, fear of judgment . . . especially while we are still learning skills.

It’s such a shame. We don’t allow ourselves to (knowingly) make public mistakes any more. Thus, we don’t develop either the resilience or the freedom to learn the skills we desire, or even to live the life we wish in many cases.

Isn’t that how we become trapped in lives of respectability but no passion?

I have plenty of soap boxes tucked into my closet. This is just one, but a big one. I believe we have a birthright to pursue creativity and other interests that enrich us and bring us joy (as long as we aren’t hurting others, of course). We should all be given the freedom of personal creativity without criticism, including the time we spend developing the necessary skills. It should be inculcated from childhood, prevalent in our school systems, and part of human rights.

If I can convince anyone to follow their hearts and blind oneself to others’ opinions (until they are wanted), I feel I would have given back to the world. Same goes for convincing creative people to choose carefully who they share their work with, because no one needs someone else’s bitterness flavoring what we love. Pouring your heart into your interests is so personally rewarding, it’s worth giving up that fear.

Please pursue your creativity. Painting, dancing, acting, writing, or whatever you love, do it for yourself. Do it for joy. Don’t pay attention to what the rest of the world thinks.

As Eleanor said, they probably aren’t watching anyway.

Would anyone like to share my soap box? There’s plenty of room. 🙂

G – The Art of Going

“Let us go then, you and I . . .”

—T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

A character in my novel-in-progress has an inner universe filled with a series of gray, crumbling skyscrapers. But they don’t fall down, they decay slowly, sideways, glass and concrete and beams splitting from the foundations and simply extending. In a world of continuous motion—of people coming and going, places growing and disappearing, names and faces that simply cease to be—the sideways city is the one constant in her life, a place that time and gravity do not touch. That is, until an event finally causes it to come crashing down.

When my own inner world imploded last year, and I lost the one person I didn’t think I wanted to live without—I turned to words, and more specifically to poetry, to restore some sense of order. Poetry offers more questions than real answers normally, but at least it tends to keep me busy in the search.

I did this for days, trying to figure out where I should go next. Where I needed to go. I had to rebuild my city, sideways or not. One that could grow from the knowledge I’d acquired throughout the preceding year, however painful. Something more solid for the future.

One poem that I turned to was T.S. Eliot’s, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and I have returned to it—or a part of it—for this post. I think the poem speaks the most about the way we move within the shifting time-place dimensions of our lives—the way we are always in a momentum of no-return, with people and even ourselves. I have always thought of myself as a point within this coming-and-going paradigm, occasionally intersecting with other people and places at the crossroads. Sometimes these encounters end in “Let’s go, sometimes in let go.

In a rare stroke of luck, I found the answer I was looking for from the first line of the poem: Let us go then, you and I . . . Let us go, let us go. Let go. Life, like love songs, like love, ends. And indeed there will be time / to wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ And ‘Do I dare’. Indeed. Time until time is no more. So: Do I dare / Disturb the universe? The answer is yes. Always. Dare to being. And to end. To go, then.

Either way, we are our own sideways cities; it’s up to us to choose how to rebuild. We’re at the mercy of motion and at some point, for us, it will end.

However, no matter what may come of the crossroads, we still must step forward. We are going; and in going we learn to be.

What is the poetry that inspires you? What gives you a sense of motion?

F – Fantasy and Fiction

Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.
Lloyd Alexander

Stories are fantasy, but in this fantasy we are free to explore life, truths, and our own experiences. We can try on different roles, live vicariously in different eras, and struggle with different villains.

Stories are so important to us that we set them down in books, then in plays, movies, and television. From early childhood we were enraptured with them and made up our own in play.

I don’t know if it’s metaphor or vicariously living with the protagonist or the natural rise and fall in tension. I’m not sure if it’s anticipation, the wonder of “what’s next,” or the need to tell our own stories  until we’ve fully accepted them.

Stories teach, warn, comfort, thrill, amuse, and challenge. Fables, urban legends, adventure—stories both entertain us and resonate in us. I recognize it. I know it. I can’t say I understand it. From the first gathering of tribes, there have been stories. How many story lovers have written a thesis or dissertation on the humanity of stories?  Not enough, I think.

Stories communicate ideas, beliefs, the state of society in all its horror and splendor. I can’t imagine a life without stories, can you? We tell them at work, with friends, to ourselves.  We relate the events of our lives with a beginning, middle, and end.

To listen to and tell stories is to be human.

Why do you think humans developed stories? What is it about stories that binds us?

E – Erase the Public Other to Emerge in Your Writing

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

The only reason I ever became even semi-comfortable writing in a public venue like the Sarcastic Muse is because I have always carried the above-mentioned quote with me.

Given the volatile nature of the Internet, the multitudes of trolls, and even the expectations of the writing community itself, I always want to edit my work, especially when I know that others may be reading it. Of course, editing is an important step to putting a piece before the public, as it generally makes elements better, but for those who worry about public opinion (and in some respect, this means everybody), editing can just as easily turn into over-editing, filled with self-censorship and self-doubt. Even the other Muses have taken the embodiment of our readership—the others—into consideration before formally scheduling some of their own posts, asking: Do you think readers will be offended by my talking about this subject? Do you think this is too forward to post? Am I on my high horse?

And before you know it, we start removing our original thoughts, replacing them with ideas we perceive as less radical, less forward, less open to controversy, less offensive, and so on and so forth—all because we want to avoid conflict with strangers.

I disagree with this, of course. As a principle, I believe that if I have something worth writing about, something I feel strongly enough to write about for the public (even while trying to imagine—for sanity’s sake—that no one will bother to read it), then I should believe in it enough to post it.

To write the truth, you must assume no one will ever read it. In the end, you cannot make everyone happy with your words. Undoubtedly at some point, you will get a troll comment or maybe a reader will (hopefully) politely disagree with your ideas. And that’s okay. That is the point of expressing ourselves to others: to open ourselves to the perspectives of other people, even those who may not think like we do, and in turn to be opened by others.

As long as we can express ourselves tastefully and respectfully, we are at the helm of our own creative work. We must imagine we are erasing our thoughts into cyber-space, rather than generating them—that in erasing the notion of the unseen other, we are actually emerging in our words. And we should be proud when those others, the unknown public eyes, take the time to read our thoughts and even to comment their own in return. Because in doing so, we grow: as a community and as individuals.

Good writing should be honest. Even if the truth belongs only within the realm of our own understanding. So speak boldly and emerge.

Assume the only person in the world you’re writing to is yourself.

What do you think? Do you censor yourself before posting anything to the public?