an incomplete list

I've been contemplating what inspires me, and the truth is, I'm not sure.

Well, alright - that isn't completely true.  When you think about it, there are two kinds of inspiration: the kind that gets you started, and the kind that gets you finished.  I find inspiration to get started all over the place: conversations I overhear, what-if questions I find myself mulling over as I drift off to sleep, movies, friendships, strangers sitting across from me on the train.  The place where stories come from.  There are a million reasons to start telling a story, because there are a million stories to be told.  It's the muddling through to the end that's the hard part.

It's not that I'm all that hard to inspire, it's just that... I'm fickle.  Sometimes a brilliant book... description...  sentence... word will move me, exhilarate me, and the ideas start coming - I want to do this, I want to make people feel like this - and my thoughts begin to take root like vines, twisting and lush and erupting into blue and orange flowers along the way: the world unfurls and everything is right there and I am just clutching my pen and widening my eyes and hoping I can get it all down.

But sometimes the same experience sends me reeling in exactly the opposite direction - I want to do this, I want to make people feel like this, but argh, I will never write like this - and I am crushed under the weight of all I want to do and be and the uncertainty of whether I'll ever live up to my own expectations.  And there are no leaves there, trust me - just dust and splinters and stale mildewy smells.

(What, you thought I would get my feelings of writerly inadequacy out of my system in one post?  Ha!)

So although I read a lot, other people's writing is an uncertain source of long-term inspiration.  In fact, reading has become sort of a dangerous endeavor (for my psyche, in any case) since I've become more serious about my own writing.

So what does keep me going, then? 

Hmm.  Bear with me as I ponder.

1: Success.  This is the one you're not supposed to say, but you know what?  Sometimes, when I don't feel like writing, the thing that gets my butt in the chair is the idea that my New York Times Bestseller isn't going to write itself.  No author has ever become a well-respected world-famous billionaire without writing a book, right?  Yes, it's insanely unlikely.  Yes, I'm more likely to be struck by lightning while being attacked by a shark than end up a world-famous billionaire author.  Still: it could happen.  But only if I write.

2: Failure.  Sara Zarr summed this up a million times better than I ever could in her guest post on Nova Ren Suma's blog.  To wit: "[E]very book... lives most of its life as a failure.  The creative process, and the creative life, is mostly full of moments between the idea and the being done, the spark and the blazing fire, the shimmering magic and the finished piece. We’re always living in the gap between our vision of what could be and what might be, and what is.  [...]  In a way, 'failure' is just another word for 'the journey,' for not being there yet but on the way. It’s the road we walk on to get wherever it is we’re trying to go."  OH HELL YES SARA ZARR.  (Now go read the rest of that post.  DO IT.  Come back when you're done.)

3: Growth.  Now where were we?  Oh yes.  So, I'm an INFJ.  And I mean I am really really really an INFJ.  Which means, in part, that I am "a perfectionist who doubts that they are living up to their full potential. INFJs are rarely at complete peace with themselves - there's always something else they should be doing to improve themselves and the world around them. They believe in constant growth, and don't often take time to revel in their accomplishments."  If you, like me, are driving yourself crazy because you have an unrelenting nagging feeling that you should be doing more, then you, like me, probably get a soothing sense of satisfaction when you sit down to write.  You're doing something.  You're learning and growing and moving in a direction.  Voila: instant inspiration to keep going.

If you do not have this unrelenting nagging feeling, congratulations: you can skip that part in therapy.  Instant inspiration savings!

4: Community.  Seeing others persevere, work hard, support one another, and take their own work and the work of their fellow writers seriously is in-freaking-credible.  Even though I am more frequently a blog-lurker than a commenter - though I'm trying to change that - it has been invaluable to skulk around and soak up the writer-love.  Knowing that we're all in this together means something.  And when I am stuck, or miserable, or bored, or just don't wanna, sometimes all it takes is an "#amwriting" tweet from a fellow writer to get me going.

... : I wish I had a 5th thing because lists seem more complete when they end on a number like 5.  But I can't really think of anything else right now.  (Still, a List of 4 Things isn't so bad considering I started this post saying I wasn't sure what inspired me at all.)

Nonetheless - help!  I'm in the market for a 5th thing.  What inspires you to get to your own finish line - whatever it might be?


  1. Cool post, and I totally get the muddling through and the unrelenting nagging feeling.

    Sara's piece was great, and it helps to know that even Hendrix was often frustrated and dismayed at how he couldn’t get on guitar the music he heard in his head.

    And yeah, the community is so great. After an hour of writing, I’ll click on the blogs, and it’s like wandering around to everyone’s office and tossing paper airplanes around and just generally enjoying each others' company ‘cause THEY FRIGGIN’ GET US.

    What inspires me is how, as frustrating as writing can be, nothing else so satisfies. And the clock is always ticking.

    P.S. I hope you get attacked by a shark in a thunderstorm.

  2. If I get attacked by a shark in a thunderstorm, I am buying a lottery ticket from my hospital bed.

    ::throws a paper airplane in your general direction::