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ASK THE EDITOR In Search of Inspiration

by Susan Malone

November 2002

Writing is a convoluted and intensely psychological process.  Even those who say it comes easy and/or don't want to deal with all that mental 'mumbo jumbo' get caught in the same psychological traps as the rest of us.  Anything that originates from the heart, the gut, the inner recesses of the human mind by its very nature cannot be easily contained or controlled.  Oh, we can learn to work with our muses.  Even tame them, in some cases.  But control from where inspiration begins?  You may as well grab onto a fist full of water and try to hold it. 

For example, when writing a book (whether fiction or non), this is how the process usually goes (if you're lucky in the first place): You get an inspiration (which means to be filled with the spirit–the breath–of the gods, the muses, your dead Aunt Clara, wherever you find it) and begin to write.  The characters or the theme or the setting grow so vivid in your mind that you canNOT not begin.  Words flow from your fingertips onto the computer screen or typing paper.  And they're good. You can feel it, sense it; your heart is pouring onto the pages.  The meanings emerge clearly through plot or organization and the chapters begin to file into line, one after the other.

You are brilliant.  You were meant to do this.  All those people who scoffed when you told them (IF you even 'fessed up) can now catch your dust.  Life is good. 

And then, ever-so-slightly you begin to slow down.  At first it happens so subtly that you don't notice. And then a week has gone by and that chapter isn't written, when you were churning one out every few days before.  Your feet feel stuck in the deep mud of time.  Is everything you have written been in actuality, terrible?  Or (if you're not of the beating-yourself-up ilk) can you just not really find the time to return to it (even though your schedule hasn't changed any if at all)?  If you could just get another scene done . . . Maybe then you can get back on track. 

Some folks don't go into this slow decline; some hit a brick wall and reel from the smack in the face.  But usually, it happens inch by inch until you're so bogged down, the way forward so obscure, that bewildered writers want to sit in the road and cry (or, shoot someone else). 

You have reached a swinging, precarious bridge on your journey, and as with all good myths (down which the writing path will surely send you) you must successfully navigate this element or stay forever on the 'wannabe' side of the river.  In essence, this is quite probably the most difficult crossing on the whole mythical map.

Because if you give up here–and I don't mean quit writing; most folks simply quit THAT book and begin another–a demon will follow you on down the road.  Which demon that is will depend upon your own psychology (whether it's the one labeled 'Not Worthy' or 'Afraid of Success' or countless other hairy beasts), but rest assured, you have just given power to a slimy creature that while you don't believe is actually inside you, in reality is. 

It is vital at this point that you push through.  No matter how horrible you think the work you're doing is, write.  I mean, how bad can it really be?  If your writing was so wonderful in the beginning, what turned you into a hack in the middle?  I ask those questions just to turn your thinking around a bit, because they're really beside the point anyway.  Right then, you are in no shape to evaluate your own words.  The twin devils of "You're Brilliant" and "You're Awful" will talk to you throughout this process.  Your only job at that juncture is to say, "Yes, I hear you.  And we'll talk later. Because I have a paragraph, scene, chapter, etc., to write right now." 

Push through.  Make a conscious decision (and yes, it takes a fair amount of courage to stare into that abyss, which is what this crossing comprises) that you're going to continue, even if you've lost your way. What's the worst that could happen?  You change or ax perhaps whole chapters in revisions.  Big deal.  We do that anyway.  As with any monster you keep in the dark, once you face it, it turns into a silly rat and scooches away. 

I've chunked entire sections of books.  What can I say?  I got off track. But by persevering, I finally found the road again, and in revisions could go back and delete (yep, ax completely) the sections where I'd lost my way.  And in the end, I found the pot of gold–right where it was supposed to be. 

"Oh, no!" you say.  "I would lose so much work!"  Yep.  But revision is truly the name of this game.  And you learn by writing, and writing more, and writing again, and . . .   As a good and well-published author friend of mine often said before his death: "Nothing is ever wasted." 

Because once you do push through that God-awful slough of despond (my apologies to the Bard) the oddest thing happens: your inspiration reappears, never really having left, and now merely rising from all the muck.  You'll be slogging along, and almost imperceptibly the mud becomes less dense. All of a sudden, you're churning out chapters again toward the finale.  It begins to go so fast that before you take a breath, you're typing "The End."  And wondering how by the luck of the leprechauns you got there! 

Susan M. Malone is author of: By the Book (novel); BodySculpting; Fourth and Long; and Five Keys for Understanding Men, and owns a successful editorial service. Fifteen Malone-edited books have recently sold to traditional publishers! Malone is a contributing editor to Authorlink.com. http://www.maloneeditorial.com