Struck! Making Inspiration A Priority When It Smacks You Upside The Head

This morning I was exhausted, on the tail end of whatever it was I caught last week. I woke up at 6:00am, took some Tylenol, kissed my husband goodbye for work, had hot tea with honey and went back to bed. I did not wake up again until 9:30am (unheard of for me). Then I read for thirty minutes to ‘wake up’ and took a shower. I was expecting a day of catch-up and taking it easy (or trying to). I am behind on reading, my own manuscript edits, planning some things for May and figuring out a business fundraising campaign (on top of my household duties and brainstorming with my husband who has just started his own business). Tomorrow, I have another blood treatment, which I know will wipe me out for 48 hours so I need to catch-up and then get ahead so I won’t just simply fall behind after tomorrow. While in my shower, however, as I was detangling my obnoxious fiery curls words started floating around in my head. Actually, floating would be too gentle, they were more like hot synapses firing in my brain, bouncing off my cranium (and thank goodness, it had an echo effect that allowed me to capture a lot of it later).

I was simultaneously writing two very different things at once, in my head. I finished my shower, trying to remember each line and action while drying off and making my way downstairs. I didn’t hurry because whenever I act like I am desperate to write down something before it is forgotten the inspiration disappears. So instead I simply didn’t doddle, made my way down to my computer and started to write instead of cutting my nails. (This detail was incredibly relevant because I was going to cut them last night, but decided to do so after my shower this morning because it is just easier that way. I still cut them once I had written enough, not a chance I was waiting again. Those babies were getting dangerous.)

The first piece in my head was a short story; the entire final scene was what was playing so loudly in my head while I was trying to take care of my hair. I was able to capture it, or at least the end of it, which is what matters to me, 398 words. This event is significant in and of itself, because I have not written any new fictional piece in over four years (February 18, 2010 to be exact). Even though I have written plenty in the last few years, it has only been memoirs, reflections and essays. By trade I am supposed to be a fiction writer, however, first and foremost. It has always been fiction that I have felt safe with, both in escaping through reading, and in writing. Of course, even when I am writing fiction it is based on real life, some actual events fictionalized and others inspired by something I observed or saw that sparked something within me. In this way, I guess all fiction is based on real life, whether it is actual reality or one’s perception of reality.

This piece is no different. I first considered writing it right after Christmas of last year and it is based on very real people and events. But while the idea was there, nothing about the story or characters jumped out at me so I never started. I filed the idea away, like so many of my ideas that are never realized. I knew when the time was right, if that time ever came, it would hit me and I would know. The last 398 words of a story probably doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but that is my fiction writing process. I never have the story I end up writing mapped out and forget outlines. When it comes to fiction I just let it happen. For my Master’s degree, my final project was a collection of short stories and a novella. The novella was based on real events, one story was created after I had the very last line of the story in my head, “My feet are still cold.” It sounds ridiculous, but that is how I work. Another story was created by an idea and desire to play with a certain structure and another story was based on a character I wanted to get to know that was a blend of two very similar men in my life at the time, call it a character study. Another was created just from the title. For me, fiction is very fast. Once I find that spark, even the tiniest little spark, a fire is quickly started and spreads until I am finished.

I can already tell that this is going to be one of my longer short stories, but not so long that it will end up as a novella. I am hoping that I can get it to be under 15,000 words, under 10,000 words would be better. Still, I am excited for this ‘first’ in a very long time.

Of course, I was also writing a reflection about inspiration while in the shower once this short story inspiration hit (some of it has become this blog) and the final thing I started writing in my head, which also had the least retention unfortunately, was a reflection about showers. I know that sounds weird, but when I was on chemo I had a port in my chest for five long months, and was not allowed a single shower. I had to have help washing my hair in sinks (or what was left of it), and washed my body with special dry soap, which I can tell you right now will never make you feel clean. I missed my showers, because it was more than just needing to feel clean, showers have always been a time for me to recharge, think, reflect, sing if I am moved to (mostly in college) and feel otherwise refreshed. I solve a lot of problems in the shower and when it comes to negative feels or bad memories I am trying to shake off, the shower helps wash them away from my day and the forefronts of my mind. Before my right to showers was taken away at the end of 2009 through April 2010, I had even written a poem about showers (or really the psychologically cleansing experience that showers are to me).

So, my day of catch-up was thwarted. I have never suffered from writer’s block, but that doesn’t mean I am always truly inspired either. When it hits you, it is as if you are witnessing some other force, entirely separate from yourself. You can only rush to record everything you feel before it slips away. Most of the time when I am inspired like this, the moments are fleeting. It also is not usually as convenient as me being in the shower. Yes, it was ten to fifteen minutes before I was able to sit down and get the inspiration out of me and onto the page, but inspiration usually occurs when I am in the hospital or more accurately, a surgical waiting room, all IV’ed up and ready to go (not exactly a time when I can or feel like I should even try, to get said inspiration out of me) or when I am out and about doing errands or in the car, without anything to jot said material down. So, today was a welcome intrusion and much more convenient than when inspiration usually strikes. Even more surprising were the echoes it left in my head so I was able to write down many things after they had already gone.

In my eyes, inspiration is a gift. You don’t need it to produce good work, but it is magic and any project that is touched by it or created from it glows with that wonderfully magical energy. A person should always take advantage of this gift when it strikes her or him if they are able. And be thankful for it.

-DMW

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