Be Inspired

fractals, black and white

In college, I took a course on the history of the Bible and decided I’d become a prophet. Jeremiah and Isaiah might face their share of ridicule and scorn, but they had the ear of God. Even better, they had the words of God. They never lacked for inspiration.

Instead, I became a writer, and a teacher, and a mom. I don’t always have a graceful word, let alone one with power.

Sometimes, ideas spring from everywhere at once, too quickly for my pen or fingers. On other days, I am thwarted by a blinking cursor. I’ve wondered if I could bribe the dog to write for me, feed him biscuits to pat the keyboard with his paws. Maybe he’d have better luck.

It’s the same with homeschooling and mothering. Occasionally, our kitchen-table lessons are swift and easy, filled with raw enthusiasm. I find the right balms for growing pains, infuse the day with humor, and my daughters smile with their entire selves.

On other days, I clench my jaw while the girls whine and wiggle and complain about the number eight or a cursive Y. There are evenings when I tally my mistakes and realize that I’ve yelled too often, been too impatient, failed to celebrate the moment.

I’ve struggled, in every role I have, to unlock the doors to inspiration. And I know I’m not alone. Inspiration can be scarce, or it can burst through, overwhelming.

On our worst days — as artists, parents, and human beings — every idea is brittle, warped, or gone. We dig, and summon nothing. Failure hovers like a cloud.

On our best days, ideas come faster than we can scoop them up. They pop and sizzle brightly. Genius beckons from the corners.

It’s easy to imagine that insiration is unpredictable, out of our control. It comes. It goes. We’re stuck somewhere in the transit lane, waiting for a pick-up.

Unless we take the wheel. Unless we gather pockets full of resources.

In a recent blog post, “The Most Unsexy Trait of Successful Writers (and Other Humans)”, Judy Dunn makes a great case for cold, hard labor, for putting in the hours, not worrying about — or waiting for — inspiration. She’s right, I think, that “inspiration isn’t enough,” but I disagree that “inspiration is the easy part.” There are too many grey days of the mind. Hard work is essential yes, but it’s not enough. Hard work is the protein and the veggies, not the chocolate ganache. That’s the flavor of inspiration.

In the months since my concussion, I’ve had to enter each day differently. Some are good. Some are not. I’ve had to be creative in my problem solving — find tutors to help with homeschooling, rely on friends for childcare and dog walks, enlist my critique partner for nearly-endless edits. I’ve turned to audio books and podcasts when my eyes refuse to focus. I’ve found a way around.

I’ve filled my pockets, learned some tricks.

In a new series, called “Be Inspired”, I’ll be sharing some of my best sources for inspiration, for the days when even the dog won’t type. I’ll also be interviewing people who inspire me, to find out what inspires them. It’s not prophecy, I know, but I hope you’ll Be Inspired.

If you have a topic you’d like me to explore in this series on inspiration, a person you think I should interview, or an idea for a guest post you’d like to write, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

24 thoughts on “Be Inspired

  1. I can only imagine the challenge you face since the concussion, Lisa. I’ve had a good ole fashion summer cold the last few days, and have had that wooly head that often accompanies a cold. Even this has made me into a big baby who is gettting little to nothing done.

    I loved the Dunn post, but it reminded me of something. Sometimes, especially when I’m struggling, the internet seems too big. I read about all of these other people struggling to get it right, to find inspiration and to stay motivated for the hard work that must follow. It makes me feel too small, too insignificant. The writing world becomes a frightening blur (especially with a wooly head).

    At times like these I tend to retreat into a self-imposed myopia. I have to crawl into the cozy cave where I first found my writerly self. Down in there is the source, the wellspring. Both inspiration and the fortitude needed to go on can be found there. After I’ve licked my wounds and cleared my head, I can peek back out into the sunshine, and reach out to friends who tend to keep me stable, and the comfort of things like genre-reading (knowing someone has actually done it).

    In my wooly headed state, I’m not sure if any of this makes a bit of sense, but I’m peeking into the sunshine to share it with someone who inspires me. Good luck finding your own inspiration and fortitude!

    • Vaughn,
      I love this. The internet does seem “too big” to me, but I often make the mistake of scattering myself further when I start to panic, instead of going back into the cozy cave. I’m going to remember this advice and use it!! I hope your cold goes away soon. I know that wooly head feeling and how hard it is to think through.

  2. Lisa,

    What a thoughtful and meaningful perspective you bring to this topic. (Would have loved to have seen a comment on the original post.) : ) What you say here is important. While I was focusing on inspirational quotes in my post, I get where you are coming from.

    And I think it might be different for each of us. I have whatsoever no problem getting inspired by a quote. But taking the advice in the quote and applying it? For me, that is hard work! Because it means I have to turn off the “think about it” and push myself into the “do it.” But in terms of writing in general, yes, it definitely comes easier on some days than others. Yesterday I was on a roll and wrote 4,900 + words without looking up once. Other days it is like pulling teeth to get 500 quality words.

    And Vaughn has some very good points, too. “Crawling into that cozy cave” pretty much describes what I have to do, too. Great perspective here, Lisa. And thanks for linking to my post.

    • Oh, yes, that gap between understanding the quotation and then applying it is wide and tough!! I know what you mean.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for such a lovely comment. That’s an impressive word count — nearly 5,000!! I like Steven Pressfield’s description of his writing day in the beginning of The War of Art, where he talks about writing for 2-3 hours, regardless of whether the work is “good” or not. I try to follow that model. And I need a cozy cave!

  3. I LOVE the idea of a series on inspiration. Very cool and a very good idea!

    While I agree that hard work isn’t enough… that some “chocolate ganache” (Yum, love that!) is also needed, I also have learned that I can power through to the ganache. Sometimes when I’m not really sure it is there, even. This summer, just like when I used to write technical whitepapers, I’ve forced myself to sit and write on my WIP — even when I wasn’t sure I could. And almost always I ended up being able to produced the words/page count I set a goal to produce. As Judy said, I think it may be different for everyone. But for me, when I force myself into that writing zone — and I’m able to do it? *That* chocolate ganache is the best I’ve ever tasted!

    • Yes, I think you can reach the best ganache through hard work and dogged persistence (we writers are a stubborn bunch, aren’t we?). Thanks for this perspective. I’ve been so impressed by how much you’ve accomplished on both books within the last year. Wow!! Go Julia!!!

  4. Lisa – looking forward to your new series on inspiration – we can all use some chocolate ganache, preferably on a daily basis.

    Today was one definitely one of those gray days. I went out on two separate photo walks this morning, both of which transformed into something more closely resembling trudging. My photographs were awful (and now reside comfortably in the Recycle Bin).

    But I don’t know any other way to do it – except to keep trudging, even when inspiration vacates the premises. For me, consistency of trying and pushing through has always been my approach to the creative process. But I look forward to finding out what you have in your pockets.

    • I spend a lot of time trudging in my writing. I’m currently on yet another set of novel revisions (I’ve lost count) and every day I sit down, dreading it. And I write. And I write. And sometimes, somewhere near the end of all that, I get a few good paragraphs in (maybe).

      I love this: “For me, consistency of trying and pushing through has always been my approach to the creative process.” Great approach. I’ve also seen the results of your creative process — and love them, oh so much. So keep trudging, ’cause it’s working. 🙂

  5. Oh, I cannot wait for this series! Thank you! I’m intimately familiar with the ebb and flow you talk about, and know I’ll learn much from what you share. xo

  6. I look forward to your new series, especially since, even on my best days, I feel failure lurking around the corner, waiting to fall on me like a collapsing brick wall. If I have a great day writing it’s often at the expense of being with my children. If we have a full and rich day homeschooling, there are acres of uncleaned carpet and a sinkful of dirty dishes to keep me from getting too puffed up.

    Your post makes me both hope and ache. Joy is so hard to hold on to.

    • Yes, yes, yes. If I have a good day writing, those hours are ones I siphoned off, always with a cost. If homeschooling goes well, the rest is a mess. Today, both girls are ill, we all took a nap, and no writing got done. I never get all my juggling balls up in the air at once. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone out there!

  7. Your series sounds like a wonderful idea. I love finding inspiration in various places, though I mostly have trouble with execution, the fighting on when it seems to be for nothing.

    I look forward to perusing your series.

  8. My inspiration for getting my rear in gear is usually fear! Fear of not being prepared, fear of making a fool of myself, fear of others getting hurt because of not being prepared, fear of getting fired! No, no, no, it is not really only fear that gets me going (I just liked the way it all sounded as it rhymed in the sentence–but fear does sometimes play a role in getting me motivated to do what I need to do!). Usually, it is inspiring stories that I read, watch, or hear that urge me forward to do something good in my work, so I am very much so looking forward to this new series on your blog!

  9. One of the things I like most about being in the second half of my century is perspective. I often tell my grown children and my younger colleagues that life has waves like the ocean. There are peaks and troughs, good times and bad times. But you can be sure that things will never stay the same. One of the gifts of getting older is being able to recognize a trough and say, “I’ve been here before. I know I will pass through this and move on.” I wish for you that you won’t stay too long in your troughs.

    • Thank you Robin. What a beautiful metaphor of the waves. We spent a good portion of this summer at the ocean, and I sat for long stretches, just watching. Thanks so much for this perspective.

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