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ASK THE EDITOR Let the Inspiration Simmer: A Message for the New Year

by Susan Malone

January 21004

We work very hard at what we do. We write, even when to do so feels like slogging through a field of pudding. We edit. Feeling confused or just wanting to learn, we study and read other great authors, both for pleasure and to see how they accomplish what we're trying to do. We go to conferences, critique groups, employ editors, and go back and revise again. In short, we do and continue to do all the things that will propel us to our goals.

Another factor exists in this mix, one that we seldom like. And that is, the learning curve takes time. Even when we're doing everything right. To write well, really write well, is a process that evolves, and unfortunately (especially for the Type A's among us), can't be pushed even though often we try to force it anyway. Like new gardeners, we want to make sure our carrots are really growing so we dig down and pull them up before they can actually take root.

One of the most difficult things for writers to do within this process, is–nothing. To wait. To let inspiration simmer slowly, often well under the surface, or even with the heat entirely off so that the cream has a chance to rise to the top.

The lesson here: slow down. Sometimes, even stop. And, two specific instances occur when you really need to do so.

First, after that masterpiece is written in rough form, lay it down. Put it away. Do NOT think about it. Let it sit so the yeast can rise. After a reasonable amount of time (a couple of months or so), then go back and see what you have. This is the perfect opportunity to have your work edited as well, as often, especially with the first couple of books, this is the point when seeing the forest for the trees is most difficult. Plus, it provides the added benefit of getting it out of your mind, at least for a time. Once it comes back from your editor, you'll be fresh, and able to see it with new eyes. Within this same process, once you finish revisions and truly believe you're entirely finished, let it rest again. For a few weeks this time. Go through once more and you'll be amazed at how much more polish you put on.

The second period of rest is a deeper one, and not related to a specific book. But after a long season of writing, you need a break. A real one. Not just for a few weeks, but a period of months perhaps, when you let your creative juices go dormant, to heal and to rest.

Oh, no! writers exclaim. Over and over and over we hear the main thing to do is write. And that's the truth–keeping on keeping on is what causes you to grow as a writer until finally you can look back and say, "Man, I really have learned something here." I'm not talking about stopping that forever. I'm talking about stopping it for a bit. Giving your psyche time to let go of all that you've so painstakingly learned. Let it lie.

Fear will bite you immediately on the butt, tell you that you'll lose it all; lose your voice, your knack, again, all that you've sweated blood to learn. Fear will do its demon-level best to convince you that if you stop, you'll never have the gumption to write again. And you know, if you weren't called to this, that's a distinct possibility. But if you ask yourself in the darkness of your night as Rilke said, "Must I write?" And the answer is yes, the time away will enrich your work as nothing else you've done.

Our lives are not lived in a linear fashion. They're circular, all the important aspects constantly spiraling on a continuum of quickening, rising, coming to a peak, and then back into entropy, decline, and a deadness. Think of your marriage if you need a more tangible reference. You know the drill–at times you love your mate to distraction, and then after a period whether it be days or weeks or months, you wonder what the heck you're doing with this person. But if you wait long enough, the quickening begins again, followed by the rising passion and the peak. Everything that's truly important to us follows this continuum, if we pay attention and honor it. And it's in the down times, the seeming dead times, when we think nothing at all is happening that truly, so very much is going on. Only, it's occurring in the deep recesses of the psyche, where you can't see it but from whence all true creativity and inspiration begin.

I'm a big fan of reading during these down times. In fact, even more than getting off your butt to write regularly, to read is most important. I'm always amazed at how little new writers actually read. You simply cannot learn this business without reading great books. And I don't mean the bestsellers; few of those are well written these days. I mean the very good books, which are still being published, albeit more obscurely.

Walking in the park during your usual writing time works wonderfully as well. It's next to reading, bookends if you will, for fostering those creative juices. Doing so lets you observe, takes your mind out of the process, and again, lets inspiration bubble to the surface. Or, sitting by the beach, river, etc.–anything to clear your mind and leave space for wisdom to be. Studying, learning, working, reading, all these things add to your knowledge of your craft. But the true gems come from deep within.

You'll know when the time comes to return. It's that little quickening, faint at first–a scene flashing from behind your eyes. Or, a character's soft voice speaking to you. It starts off slowly most of the time, but here the creativity comes again to whisper and then push and before you know it, you cannot remember ever being filled with such inspiration. And the kicker is, you haven't been. By allowing once abundant fields to lie fallow, you've let the compost of all of the above turn into even richer earth–fertile soil in which your new seeds of inspiration will thrive.

About Susan Mary Malone


Author of By the Book (novel) Body Sculpting; Fourth and Long; Five Keys for Understanding Men. Twenty Malone-edited books have recently sold to traditional publishers! She is a contributing editor to Authorlink.com . Reach her at www.maloneeditorial.com

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