Sharing Inspiration, Part 2

After the Ankle Incident, my friend Jenny commented, “Wow, you’ve had kind of a rough month.”

“Have I?” I said.

“Well, you got really sick a few weeks back. And now the ankle.”

“Huh,” I said. “I guess you’re right.”

It hadn’t really struck me like that. November has been an introvert month for me — turning inward, staying indoors, having quiet “me” moments. It’s easier to do when it’s cold outside and dark at 5pm. After Jenny’s comment, though, I realized what’s really been taking up my thoughts this month, if only subconsciously — replenishing the creative reserves. October was a big push creatively, what with the 30/30 Challenge and all. And creativity’s cyclical. I’ve still been tinkering away at the editing, but mostly? I’ve been thinking, pondering, reading, listening, seeking inspiration.

So I thought I’d share — what’s been inspiring me lately?

Wonderbook. One day, Jeff VanderMeer’s book will wind up on my book reviews, but my shameful secret is that it’s taken me a year to read it, and I’m still nowhere near done. It’s not because it’s not good — it’s really good — but it’s big. Like, physically big. Big books don’t fit in my purse, which means they don’t get read on the bus, which means it takes forever to read them.

Wonderbook

Anyway. This book is full of SO MUCH ruminative goodness. Its focus is how to write imaginative fiction, and it goes into more detail than any other writing book I’ve encountered. It’s forced me to examine my work-in-progress in a new light, to question decisions I’ve made, to answer why I’ve made the decisions I’ve made. And the book itself is quite beautiful — another reason I’m slow to get through it. It probably takes me 15 minutes to go through two pages — in the best way possible. It encourages the mind to check out and drift.

30 and Bookless“. I’ve been recommending this article by Rachael Maddux left and right, and I keep going back to it. It’s a great reminder that, despite my college-self’s ambition to have a book published by now… it’s ok that I don’t. It’s probably even best that I don’t, because I wasn’t the same writer back then that I am now. We’re two different people, producing different work.

Fleetwood Mac. Specifically, this song.

You guys, I just CAN’T GET ENOUGH. I listen to it on repeat, I sing along, I sway to it in the bathroom as I’m putting on makeup. The slow start, the bewitching build. It’s definitely set the contemplative mood for the month.

The Habits of Highly Productive Writers“.My college advisor recently shared this article by Rachel Toor. Nothing in it is revelatory (“Highly productive writers nap four hours a day!”), but there are some good tips. The part that really jumped out?

When someone’s doing a lot more than you, you notice it. It brings out your petty jealousy. And if you’re like me (occasionally petty and jealous), it might make you feel crappy about yourself. Which is, let’s face it, ridiculous. No one else’s achievements take anything away from yours, or mine. The fact that another writer is working hard and well should be nothing more than inspiration, or at least a gentle prod.

Sometimes, some days, that reminder is particularly important.

What are you reading, watching, listening to this month?

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Writing Words from Neal Stephenson (Or, Hidden Treasures at the Doctor’s Office)

Last week I had a doctor’s appointment. I was in the waiting room — waiting, as you do — and spied a copy of Seattle Met magazine. The cover touted “52 amazing weekend getaways!”, or some such numbered list that always sucks me in. So I picked it up and started flipping.

Halfway through, I stumbled upon an interview with none other than Neal Stephenson — local speculative-fiction writer who’s penned approximately one zillion books. Byron loves his writing, and I very much enjoyed Snow Crash, so I stopped my page flipping to read the interview.

It was then that I noticed that this particular issue of Seattle Met was from January 2011.

Seattle Met - Interview with Neal Stephenson

January 2011. Can we just take a moment to appreciate that? Doctor’s office, you have officially outdone yourself when the magazine in your waiting room is 3 1/2 years old.

But at the end of the day, the past-due expiration date didn’t particularly matter — I still very much enjoyed Stephenson’s responses, and found them relevant to where I am as a writer.

Seattle_Met_NealStephenson_2

“Fiction is a pop culture medium.” I love this quote so hard — it describes how I currently approach my writing. Yes, fiction CAN be artful and poetic (and so much of it is) — but it doesn’t HAVE to be. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking pleasure in a page-turner.

Seattle_Met_NealStephenson_3

Writing my first draft, some of the minor characters surprised me — they had relationships I didn’t expect, back stories that were news to me. Now that I’m working on revisions, they’re being given their due — getting fleshed out where appropriate, rearranged so they have more importance to the story. I did have an outline, and it saved me from drowning in first-draft despair — but deviating from it to follow these minor characters makes the story richer.

Seattle_Met_NealStephenson4

“I like to write” — and at the end of the day, shouldn’t that be what it’s about?

If you’d like to read the full interview, you can check it out over yonder. And next time you’re at the doctor’s office, give the old, old magazines a spin. You never know what you might find.

 

Sharing Inspiration

Last week, I attended a workshop about staying creatively inspired when you do the same type of work over and over again, day in and day out (whether that be writing, design, architecture, whatever). If you work in a creative field, it’s a subject that pops up frequently — the relationship between inspiration and creativity, those two nebulous forces fated to be entwined. Inspiration is viewed as the force that drives creativity, something vague and elusive that can’t really be pinned down. When we say that “inspiration strikes,” it implies that it comes out of the blue, when we’re least expecting it.

Over the workshop, two themes emerged: in order to find inspiration and be our most creative, we must 1) seek out inspiration, and 2) create. Both are important (particularly #2, I’d argue — you literally can’t be creative if you don’t create), but #1 has been consuming more of my thoughts. People think that inspiration finds you — that the muse lands on your shoulder and sparks the next idea. That’s wrong. At its core, inspiration is pretty lazy; it’s not going to come and find you, you have to find it. You have to actively work to be inspired — you have to seek it out.

In Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon talks about sharing your inspirations, so that other people can also discover the awesomeness and be inspired. So I’m giving it a shot, this whole sharing thing. What’s been inspiring me this past week? A whole lot of random, including…

John Cleese quote via Austin Kleon and 99U

    • The words of Maya Angelou. Lots of people have been sharing her words this past week, which is rad (when was the last time you can think of a poet’s work being widely shared?). The poem particularly resonating with me? “Still I Rise“:

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

  • This old New York Times article about Police Officer Frank Chiafari, the officer who responded to the 911 phone call about a horrific chimp mauling. (Warning: this is a graphic and incredibly sad story. Highly likely to be upsetting.) Seem an odd thing to inspire creativity? Yeah, I agree, it IS totally weird. But — I just finished writing a short story, and this article was swirling around my head the whole time I worked on it. You never know where inspiration will come from.
  • This random quote from musician Kathleen Hanna, via Austin Kleon’s tumblr.

Beyoncé isn’t Beyoncé because she reads comments on the Internet. Beyoncé is in Ibiza, wearing a stomach necklace, walking hand in hand with her hot boyfriend. She’s going on the yacht and having a mimosa. She’s not reading shitty comments about herself on the Internet, and we shouldn’t either. I just think, Would Beyoncé be reading this? No, she would just delete it or somebody would delete it for her. What I really need to do is close the computer and then talk back to that voice and say, Fuck you. I don’t give a shit what you think. I’m Beyoncé. I’m going to Ibiza with Jay-Z now, fuck off. Being criticized is part of the job, but seeking it out isn’t. That’s our piece to let go.

(“Would Beyoncé be reading this?” should become my new life mantra.)

What’s been inspiring you this week? Any goodies to share?