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14 September 2009 @ 11:17 am
“I wonder who’s comin’ to Sookie’s house today.”  

Yesterday Ted and I were talking about the role of inspiration in an artist’s job, and whether there were artistic professions where inspiration was the rule rather than the exception.

We pretty much decided no. Possibly, we agreed, there are scenarios in which inspiration may be more useful for some artists than others. Ursula Vernon is apparently periodically inspired to do one of her extra-bizarre paintings…but I know for a fact that most of what pays her bills is a rock solid, day-in-day-out work ethic. One does not produce a web comic two days a week for two and a half years by awaiting inspiration. One does not do hundreds of illustrations in three months for one’s book by awaiting inspiration. One just works until one’s brain is numb.

Granted, Ursula does a lot of quick scribbles and sketches which she can fit in between the grind. I suppose for a writer that’s the moral equivalent of flash fiction and short stories (neither of which I write much of, unless things like that little Gemma Fade blurb counts as flash fiction? Still, not much.). Maybe those are the bits of inspiration that pop up while doing the day job, as it were.

My moments of inspiration tend to be book-length, or series-length, which isn’t exactly helpful. I can’t whip out a Gemma Fade novel (graphic or otherwise) in four hours, or write the Walker Papers Jr series in a week. At least half of my “to be written” ideas file–which has fifty-plus books in it–are ideas born from moments of inspiration which I don’t have time to pursue.

Here’s the other thing I find about inspiration: most of the time, it’s not enough. I can go charging in blindly to a new idea, full of enthusiasm for it, and after three or eight chapters I frequently realize…there’s no there there. The idea, inspiring and exciting as it may be, isn’t grown up yet. It hasn’t had enough time to percolate at the back of my brain, and so it lacks the narrative or the characters or the worldbuilding to make it a complete work. I suspect this is where a lot of wanna-be writers say something to the effect of “the muse has left me” and are distracted by a new bright shiny idea which drags them down another three or eight chapters before petering out.

You can’t do that, as a professional. You’ve got to be able to finish the work even when you’re tired of it. There will *be* moments of inspiration, when something finally falls into place (an author friend of mine is on the third and final set of revisions for one of her books, and she’s bloody sick of it, and last week she had a moment of “oh, hell, *that’s* what I’m missing” which was going to require either a deft threading of a few details or a significant chunk of rewriting to make it work), but mostly I find those moments are the result of huge tedious dull long working hours (as was my friend’s case last week). Once in a while the stars align and a writer gets hit by an Attack Novel and the inspiration lines up with having the time to write it, but mostly it doesn’t work that way. Mostly that kind of fiery passionate inspiration is something a writer waves at in passing on the way back to work. It’d probably be a lot more *fun* if we could ride that passion all the way to the bank, but generally speaking, that doesn’t happen.

(The subject line for this post is taken from Charlaine Harris, author of the stupendously popular Sookie Stackhouse books, which have been made into HBO’s wildly successful “True Blood” tv series. At Comic Con this year, someone asked her what she did for inspiration, and she said, essentially, “I don’t have much use for inspiration. I just sit down at my keyboard every day and say, “I wonder who’s comin’ to Sookie’s house today!”")

(x-posted from the essential kit)
Laura Anne Gilman: madness tollsuricattus on September 14th, 2009 11:56 am (UTC)
so basically what you're saying is, "why isn't everyone in the Warroom today?"

But yeah. The idea, the desire, comes from somewhere (inspiration, muse, maladjusted medications, deep-rooted voices in our heads) but actually doing anything with them is all down to AiC and steady work habits -- all of which are enhanced by experience, even as our moments of inspiration may hold steady.

When I was editing, the best books came not from the most brilliant ideas, but from the writers who had good ideas and had the craft and dedication to build them properly. (when you have a brilliant idea and the craft and dedication... yeah. But a professional can't wait for lightning to strike her left big toe).
kitmizkit on September 14th, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, yeah, I'm on my way...
Pamela: Baby polar bearjeditigger on September 14th, 2009 12:56 pm (UTC)
This is wonderful advice, Kit, and something I myself need to hear. What really rang true was the bit about being a professional...if I want to consider myself a writer (and I do) I can't act unprofessionally toward my work.

Thank you so much for posting this!
kitmizkit on September 14th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
The absolute utter bitch of an artistic career, I think, is that if you want to get to where it's a *career*, you're going to have to put in thousands of unpaid hours of work first (unless you get incredibly lucky, which happens, but for most of us not so much). And it's very hard to treat an unpaid job as a job, particularly when you have a day job and there are a thousand other things you could be doing with your off-day-job time. But I believe that's really what it takes.
Pamela: Baby bear push!jeditigger on September 14th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, I think so too, I really do. What you just said pretty much honed in on the importance of that for me; sometimes you just need to hear things a certain way.
cainle_bean: random squirrelcainle_bean on September 14th, 2009 01:10 pm (UTC)
I believe it was Mercedes Lackey who I first read talking about the work of writing. And what happens when "fans" take things too far. http://www.mercedeslackey.com/features_laststraw.html

A lot of people do not realize that creative jobs are a ton of work. And its real work. It takes a lot of control to write, paint, compose, on a daily basis. And it has to be done on a daily basis (ok well close to it =p).

I have great respect for professional artists.

Heh ok I really should wake up before I comment on these, forgot half of what I was saying.
kitmizkit on September 14th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
Yeah, writing doesn't come across as a 'real' job, because 1. everybody is capable of the physical act of writing, it's not so hard, what's the big deal (people think this less about, say, playing piano), and 2. because so much of it happens in your head. It is a real job. It's just not a physically strenuous one. :)
Bryantbryant on September 14th, 2009 01:28 pm (UTC)
Ayup. This all became pretty evident to me when I was doing RPG freelancing. Amazingly, I couldn't just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike, because all that ever got me was a few paragraphs of evocative prose. No good. I had to sit down with my outline, accept the fact that I wanted to cover X, Y, and Z elements of each psionic order, and grind out those words. Then make 'em exciting and full of plot hooks. Then make 'em grammatical. Then take out all my semicolons.
kitmizkit on September 14th, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
Then take out all my semicolons.

Laura Anne Gilman: meerkat coffeesuricattus on September 14th, 2009 05:20 pm (UTC)
damn it, they keep dropping into MY manuscript. How'd that happen?

*blinks in outraged innocence*
Bryantbryant on September 14th, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)
It's because they have such a small cross-section; it's easy for them to pass through even the finest of nets.
mela_lyn: Writing Wretro Womanmela_lyn on September 14th, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you. That's something you don't think about when you're a newbie. It's like I expect inspiration to be there when I open up the page. It's my story... why wouldn't it be there? But yeah, it's definitely work too. :) Hopefully someday my only work but that's going to take time.

kitmizkit on September 14th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
*laughs* *laughs more* I have to admit, reading "It's my story... why wouldn't [inspiration] be there?" just sort of makes me stare. I'm more like, "It's my story. Why /would/ inspiration be there?" :)
mela_lynmela_lyn on September 14th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
Well, you know us newbies... take everything for granted, right? ;)
kitmizkit on September 14th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)
Enjoy it while you can. :)
mela_lyn: Awkward Star Warsmela_lyn on September 14th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
Gee - thanks. :p
Minphantomminuet on September 14th, 2009 02:46 pm (UTC)
I attended one of her sessions at Dragon*con, and she said essentially the same thing.
UrsulaVursulav on September 14th, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
*grin* I'm not sure if those little quick bits are inspiration or just...please god, let me do anything other than wombats/little dragons today!

But yes. Mostly brain-numbing. Every now and again, I'll get a flash of delight and inspiration, even on Digger or Dragonbreath, but you have to sit down and slog to provide the space to let that happen.
kitmizkit on September 14th, 2009 05:40 pm (UTC)
Ah, but at least you've got the capability of scribbling a little doodle like that! I hardly ever think of little story blurb thingies like the Gemma Fade thing. Of course, that's probably a matter of practice...

But yeah. It's work. :)