Posted in Writing

Inspiration Only Gets You So Far

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Austin is such an amazing town for writers. Independent book stores, author events, poetry readings, book festivals, literary archives, professional organizations, classes, workshops, meet-ups, indie presses, conferences—we have it all. I gushed about some of my favorite local literary highlights in this post, and I stand by everything I said.

I have friends in other parts of the state/country/globe that don’t live on such fertile writing ground, and I feel a little sorry for them. They can’t even imagine the number of opportunities I have for networking, listening, and learning. There’s just so much inspiration here!

This summer alone, I participated in a writing conference and an online workshop, attended a panel discussion and an author interview, led a write-away day at The Writing Barn and met up with various writer friends to drink coffee, share ideas, and bond over this strange and wonderful writing life. All of it was excellent.

But… (Yeah, there’s a but.)

This may sound a bit blasphemous, but I’m actually starting to envy those writers who DON’T live in a thriving writing community because, well, I bet they get a lot of work done.

The thing is, inspiration only gets you so far. Eventually, you have to actually sit down and WRITE. Otherwise, all those techniques you learned and exercises you practiced and great advice you heard and connections you made don’t matter. You have to put the inspiration to use or it doesn’t mean anything. The writing is the key.

Calendar

I recently went back to work full time-ish. (I’m a substitute teacher, so my job is pretty flexible, meaning random and confusing and literally all over the place, but I’m trying to book a job every day because I like having money to buy things.) All of a sudden, my available hours have shrunk and my available hours that I am awake and running on at least 70% brain power have shrunk even more.

This weekend, I looked at my calendar for the month and—man, oh, man—it is full of so many amazing things! Volunteering for one writing organization and monthly meetings with two more. Two book launches at my favorite local book store and one poetry reading followed by an open mic. An author interview, and a meet-up with writer friends, and a panel discussion, and a poetry festival, and one event that even has free wine. Yes! Yes! Yes! Wait… Noooooo! When am I supposed to write???

I sat down, put my head in my hands, and wished I lived out in the country or possibly in a city of illiterates. I found myself envying those friends who don’t live in thriving literary communities.

Which is silly. Utterly and completely silly. Because, obviously I don’t have to go to all these things. There is literally ONE event on my calendar that I have to go to because I’m assisting at it. The rest? I can just say no. Remember that, kids of the eighties? JUST SAY NO.

But it’s not that easy, because I WANT to go. The book launches are both for friends of mine, and of course I want to celebrate their amazing successes. The poetry festival is always so much fun and all my poet friends will be there. The author interview is with someone really interesting who I’ve been wanting to meet. And free wine? Come on!

Sadly, though, I can’t attend everything. I will have to pick and choose. I will have to say no. I will have to live vicariously through others when it comes to some of these events because I am a writer, so what I have to do is write. There’s no point bottling up all that inspiration if I don’t make time to let it out.

So here I sit, erasing some events from my calendar. I’ll miss you, friends! But if you don’t see me at a meeting or a workshop or a festival in the coming weeks, don’t fret. If I’m not there, it means I’m writing. And that’s a good thing.

Posted in Poetry, Writing

Where Ideas Come From

I just picked up an old journal from January of 2011 and found the first, very rough, draft of my poem “Enchanted Rock in September” which was published in the 2012 Texas Poetry Calendar.

If you’d asked me yesterday, I would have guessed I wrote that poem in the summer, or maybe during a poetry lesson with my seventh graders during the fall of 2010. I never would have come up with the truth—that I penned it around 10:00 p.m. on January 31st while sitting by the fire pit in my backyard waiting on a cold front.

EnchantedRockDraft

Here a few of the thoughts I captured that night before I turned my attention to poetry:

“I am sitting in my backyard writing by the light of the campfire I just made for myself (with the help of the fire-starter log from HEB). My plan is to sit here and write in my journal and drink this High Life and read Lolita and enjoy the evening for as long as I like… Tomorrow we are getting a true ‘arctic blast’ that will drop our temperatures down into the teens at night with wind chills in the single digits. Not exactly campfire weather to me. I’ll probably be inside the house, next to the fireplace, wearing a sweatshirt and a scarf, drinking hot tea with a cat on my lap. But tonight I’m wearing my Spider-Man t-shirt and jeans and flip-flops. The thermometer on the back porch says it’s sixty-eight degrees and there is a little breeze that brings along a cool kick with it once in a while—a hint of the cold to come. Perfect weather… Just went inside to check the forecast. They’re saying there will be a low overnight of 50 and a high tomorrow of 35. That doesn’t make any sense to me and makes my brain hurt… I hear a guy whistling a tune. It kind of sounds like it’s coming from the veloway [the bike and rollerblade path behind our house]. A musical rollerblading ghost perhaps? Probably just a neighbor.”

That forecast still doesn’t make any sense to me, nor does it make sense that on a January night of campfires and arctic blasts and rollerblading ghosts, I chose to write a poem about hiking up Enchanted Rock in September. But I did, and I’m glad, because I really like that poem.

Ideas can come out of nowhere. My story “A Fair Day,” which starts out with a man staring at a severed human elbow, was born on an airplane on Christmas Day in 2010, as my husband and I flew from his family’s home to mine to celebrate the holiday. The fact that a hot air balloon features heavily in the story comes from some stationery I had at the time. I have no clue why my brain was creating murderous characters and gruesome deaths on a day when I was sublimely happy and enjoying time with loved ones. It just did.

Balloon

Other times, the inspiration behind a piece is easier to pinpoint. In my story “The Jack-in-the-Box,” a twelve-year-old girl whose father has just died begins receiving messages from the clown inside an old jack-in-the-box toy. The seed for this story was planted when I was playing with my two-year-old niece and her own jack-in-the-box. Hers had a dragon inside, not a clown, but it still scared me. Jack-in-the-boxes have always scared me. My niece wasn’t frightened at all and just kept playing the thing over and over and over, and I found myself thinking, What if one time when the lid popped open something was different? I started writing the story and discovered what would happen as I went.

Sometimes the motivation behind the story actually gets edited out during the revising process. The idea for “The Girl in the Attic,” which was published this summer in Growing Pains by Sinister Saints Press, came from a friend’s Facebook post. She wrote, “Omg. Something in my attic is knocking. Like, ‘Hello? Is anyone home?’ knocking. If I don’t come back… don’t send anyone after me.” I immediately started typing out a story about a girl who hears a knocking coming from the mysterious attic door she’s not allowed to open and decides to investigate. I was well into my first draft and struggling to keep the thread of the story intact, when I realized the knock didn’t make any sense in the literary world I’d created. So I deleted it. There’s still a girl and a mysterious attic door and good amount of horror, but no knocking sound. The story didn’t need it. And yet, without the Facebook post about the knock, I never would have written the story. (Oh and my friend did come back from her attic, by the way. All was well. This time.)

You never know when or where a good idea will strike—on an airplane, by a campfire, or even just checking Facebook. I guess the important thing is to recognize them when they come along, trust your instincts, and see what happens.