It Came to Me in a Flash of Light

Flash of Light? Actually, that has happened to me. Once in a while. A brilliant idea falls from the ether into my mind, and I am enthralled at the possibilities it suggests. An image has appeared. It must mean something. There must be a story there. The truth is, sometimes yes, sometimes no.

We’ve heard all those clichés about the Muse. Books have been written about her. Movies produced. She is young and beautiful. There are three of them, daughters of Zeus, Memory their mother. No, wait, four. Or nine, depending on who is counting. They are the source of all knowledge. They are water nymphs.

From Homer until the present day, the idea that artistic expression is the result of deliberate courting of a deity who may or may not deign to grace us with the information we need to produce art has been with us. We wait for her. We flatter her. We sit patiently, hoping she will notice us.

She is a goddess. And she is also the excuse par excellence for writers who are not willing to notice that habit and consistency are the keys to learning craft and producing work.

Not that inspiration doesn’t count. It does. My favorite comment on this subject came from a working writer who stated that he shows up at his keyboard at eight am and stays there until 5 pm. “That way,” he said, “If inspiration strikes, I’ll be there. Meanwhile, I’m working.”

What I’ve noticed with my own writing is that inspiration is easy. Thoughts about writing and story ideas are not hard to come by. And they’re free. What is hard is the day to day work of crafting characters and plot and constructing scenes that make the stories work.

Maybe you’re the genius who can tap out a first draft that doesn’t need re-writing, but I sure am not. I re-write, edit, put the manuscript aside, come back when it’s cooled down, am amazed at all the things I left out, re-write again, edit some more, and do that a few more times. This is creative work.

A boss of mine once put a sign on her wall that said, “Writing is re-writing.” I don’t know who said that first, but I’ve found it to be more true than I imagined when I started writing fiction for publication. I’m amazed at the errors I catch on the fifth or sixth or seventh draft. I’m shocked at the information I’ve failed to include in the third go around with the novel. What is wrong with me?

As it turns out, nothing. Most writers write like this. The inspiration of the Muse can get us through the first draft, writing like white-hot lightening (sometimes, if we’re lucky). But then the real work begins. As I’ve learned more about craft, especially with novel-length work, I realize that inspiration comes quietly as well in that flash of light. It comes in the realization that a character’s motivation is not well explained, or that a scene needs to be set differently. Creative inspiration comes in those all-important details as well as in the big picture.

The dreaming self can solve the larger problems in a story. Most of us have had the experience of waking up and saying, “aha! That’s how I can solve that plot problem.” But it’s just as creative when you’re crafting the words that make that inspiration sing on the page.

So, the next time you’re tempted to excuse yourself from your manuscript because you’re waiting for the light bulb to go on, the Muse to get back from the Mediterranean, or inspiration to strike, take a deep breath, sit down at the keyboard and start typing.

All things come to she who waits, if she who waits works ceaselessly while she waits. 

 

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The Women’s Fiction Writers Association offers support and resources for writers who create stories about a women’s emotional journey. They have contests, a mentorship program, critique groups, online workshops, and other resources.

The Speculative Literature Foundation is another resource worth a look. They offer resources for specfic writers, awards, grants and other programs. Their mission is to “promote literary quality in speculative fiction, by encouraging promising new writers, assisting established writers, facilitating the work of quality magazines and small presses in the genre, and developing a greater public appreciation of speculative fiction.”

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