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)