Thursday, August 22, 2013
Worth the Wait?
After yapping about the joys of procrastination last week, I’m going to do a 180 in regards to inspiration. Namely, should you wait for inspiration to hit, or just plow ahead and hope for the best?
Now, waiting for inspiration is one of the best ways there is to ensure you never get anything done. If you decide to put off writing until you feel inspired, I can almost guarantee your muse will pick that moment to go on an extended vacation. I don’t know about you, but for me the ideas tend to hit while I’m hip-deep in a sticky plotline, slogging my way from scene to scene without benefit of a map. I suppose I could whip up an outline first, but that would mean I know where I’m going, and where’s the fun in that? Must be a pantser thing.
I have had those burst-of-light moments all writers dream of and pray for. Full plots have hit me while I’m out driving, and me without a notebook on the passenger seat. Some writer I am. I once had a character’s entire backstory come to me while I was vacuuming. I’ve heard some writers literally dream up their plots (famous example: R. L. Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Now that’s convenience plus. Mr. Subconscious does all the work while you’re snoring away. In a perfect world, it would happen like that all the time.
Sadly, that’s not the case with me. If I waited for inspiration to hit before I started writing, I’d never start writing. For me, the only way to get the juices flowing is to dive in and start committing words to the paper or the screen. Eventually, some word or phrase will spark a useable idea. It may have nothing at all to do with what I’m working on, but that’s okay. I can either jot it down and save it for later, or switch over to the new track and see where the train takes me. Either way, I get words written and can stave off the guilt for another few hours. Plus it diverts me off whatever I started with, thus satisfying the procrastination need. Winning all around.
I had it happen to me last week. I was working on one of the three stories I’m jumping around between. The hero abandoned his ranch and is living in a cave/den up in the mountains (he’s a werecougar, so it’s not as bad as it sounds). Why is he out there? I knew he had a wife or a girlfriend or something, and something happened to her, but not what. Did she leave him? Did she die from Cliché Writer’s Disease? I had no idea, and was looking forward to this lack of knowledge to bring my efforts to a halt before I got too far in. Until that moment happened, though, I struggled gamely on, writing the parts I did know, like him finding the Bengal tiger girl and hiding her from the abusive asshat she’s been promised to. That’s just plot. You can do plot on autopilot.
Then he went off to fight the tigers and left her to wander around the den. In search of clothing (shifters come off their animal forms nekkid), she pokes around the bedroom and finds a trunk full of blankets and sheets, including a lovely set of satin sheets still in the packaging, never opened. That came as a surprise to both of us. I didn’t know they were in there until she opened the trunk, any more than she did. What’s the story here?
Here’s the story, and here’s where inspiration unexpectedly kicked in. Rick was married to a jaguar shifter. Her brother, the controlling type, didn’t approve. One day, while Rick was out getting supplies, her brother showed up at the house. He murdered his sister and burned the house to cover his tracks. Rick came home to a smoldering ruin and a dead wife. (And a dying brother-in-law. Idjit got caught in his own fire. Served him right.) Unable to bring himself to rebuild, he took off into the mountains and went cougar for a while. Now he’s living up there and defending his turf with a vengeance, the way he failed to the first time.
The sheets? Those were a surprise gift for his wife. All he had left after the fire was whatever he’d had with him in his truck. He kept the sheets but never used them. They’re his only reminder of her.
At some point Bari the Bengal tigress is going to use them to fashion a sari, to surprise and maybe tempt the man who saved her. Rick’s going to come home and find this girl he’s falling in love with wrapped in the sheets he bought for his murdered wife. Can’t wait to get to that scene.
All because I had her open a trunk, and she found something I hadn’t planned on. That’s what inspiration can do for you.
None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been writing to begin with. If I’d waited for inspiration to solve all my problems, I’d probably be watching TV right now. Inspiration did hit, but I had to kick-start it. That’s how it works for me. If this is how it works for you, sorry. There’s no other way around it. You’re just going to have to write.
Look on the bright side. Once you start writing and inspiration starts igniting all those plot and character ideas, you’ll have something tangible you can put off. Things do tend to work out.