Bad news for me: Tara asked me to write about inspiration. I’m not sure if it’s the dreary November weather or my travel-fried brain, but I feel neither inspired nor inspiring.
Good news for you: You don’t need me, not when you’ve got the collective human experience at your fingertips. When I type the word “inspiration” into Google, I get over 130,000,000 hits. Everything you could possibly want is there: dictionary definitions, memorable quotations from Eleanor Roosevelt and the Dalai Lama, Scripture verses, YouTube videos of TED talks, and, last but certainly not least, Kid President.
Lest you think I’m making excuses to avoid writing about inspiration, I’m not. I am going to write. It’s just that I’ve decided to tell you that it’s okay not to feel inspired.
I’ve learned that for me, writing has little to do with inspiration and everything to do with hard work. Don’t get me wrong–there IS inspiration, if you define inspiration as the source of those ideas that seem to come out of nowhere, and I’m happy when those moments come. But that kind of inspiration comes in fits and snatches, and flits away as quickly as it comes.
That word Inspiration is a tricky one. Define it too narrowly, in the sense that Inspiration conjures up Muses and magic and sparkly things, and you might be setting yourself up to wait far too long between productive writing times.
Of course, there’s another way to see inspiration other than as the occasional blessing from a capricious Muse. Let’s define “inspiration” as “something that makes you put your butt in the chair.” (Butt In Chair, or BIC, as you probably know, is from Jane Yolen.)
Here are some things that make me sit my writerly butt down:
When I started writing, almost all submissions and responses were handled via the U.S. Postal Service. More days than not, nothing came in the mail. Nevertheless, that moment of reaching for the mailbox door every day and pulling it open always felt happy and hopeful. And sometimes there was something lovely in there! I like that hopeful feeling (even though these days I get it when I check CallerID to see if it’s my agent) and I don’t get to have it if I don’t do the work first.
My 18-year-old daughter, faced with a looming deadline the other night for one of her college applications, whipped out an essay in about forty-five minutes, and it was actually quite good. Deadlines mean you don’t have the luxury of feeling inspired; you just have to do the work.
The Ticking Clock
I’m not old-old; I’m not even sure I’m quite in the middle-aged category. But I probably have fewer days ahead of me than I have behind me. As Rabbi Hillel said, “If not now, when?” I’m pretty sure he wasn’t referring to me finishing my hippo manuscript, but it works for me.
My four teenagers may think they’re too old for picture books (though they respectfully read mine when I ask them) but they definitely are not too old to see me setting and reaching new goals. When I feel like quitting (generally because I’m depending on a visit from a Muse who has taken off on a one-way trip to Tahiti) I remember I don’t want my kids to see me quit. They can see me struggle, and they can see me change my direction, but I don’t want them to see me quit.
This. Yes. More addictive—and more important—than chocolate to my writerly soul.
This list is incomplete, of course. I didn’t list the embarrassing ones or the ones I should probably save for a therapist. (I own those; I just don’t think you need or want to read about them.) I’m curious—what’s on your list? What inspires you to sit down and write when your Muse is on Mars?
Despite the oft-quoted adage to write what you know, Anne Marie Pace has never been a bear, a vampire, or a ballerina. She is the author of NEVER EVER TALK TO STRANGERS and A TEACHER FOR BEAR, both published by Scholastic Book Clubs; and the VAMPIRINA BALLERINA series, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, published by Disney-Hyperion. Someday, she hopes to write books about what she does know: whistling, baking blue-ribbon-winning chocolate chip cookies, and schlepping teenagers around in a minivan, if she can find a way to make any of that interesting. She lives with her family in Virginia. Visit Anne Marie online at AnneMariePace.com or the Vampirina Ballerina Facebook page at Facebook.com/VampirinaBallerina.