The Nature of Inspiration

For day 50, I started a new series Behind the Scenes to give a look into what inspired my fiction. That post was about The Diary of Kaashif Sarwan (that links to part 1/3), my recent novella.

For Praxis this month, not only are we blogging every day, but we are reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It is a collection of short essays on the resistance everyone faces regarding their calling in life, how to beat it, and part three is called “beyond resistance.” After I finish the book I will write a Recap post on the book.

I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration lately, in part because I’m reading The War of Art, but also because of Inside a Writer’s Head and drafting a piece about why I blog every day.

I frequently get random, sudden ideas for a piece of writing, new or in progress — this is what I call inspiration. I have little control over what ideas it gives me or when it presents them.

What I do control is my response. I either accept or reject the idea. Then I either use it, lose it, or record it.

I’ve gotten ideas from shows, movies, video games, advertisements, research, books, short stories, articles, blog posts, conversations, and more. My brain takes the input and says, “Hey, we could use that combined with something else or modified in this way and write about it!” for fiction. Or it says, “We should respond to this, or share this information, or write something combining this with the other information we have on this” for nonfiction.

It can be really messy sometimes. Sometimes I have the skeleton of an idea and no clue how to flesh it out.

Based on my experience, inspiration seems to come from my subconcious working to connect things and when it finally does, it feels sudden and unexpected. Because I’m not conciously working to connect, say, elephants, time travel, and romance, inspiration strikes when my brain does connect them.

Inspiration is usually an idea, but sometimes it is a sudden overwhelming desire to write. It’s a compulsion to sit and pound out words.

I felt this very strongly after the first Praxis Wednesday I attended. We met with Rob Goodman, who co-authored A Mind at Play, a biography about Claude Shannon. I recommend this post from Jimmy Soni, his co-author about their experience writing the book. I was inspired by Claude Shannon’s life and the focus he had on his work. I felt compelled to get to work on my writing.

This is a more infrequent form of inspiration for me, but it does happen.

When I get inspired, I’m infrequently able to write at that exact moment. That or I recognize that I shouldn’t start a new piece of writing yet. I have a lot of stories that are in progress. Too many. So often, when I get a story idea, I shelve it for later on.

Overall inspiration can be complicated and unreliable, but it can also be really helpful when I’m feeling stuck and need new ideas.

Unrealized Dependence

I thought this morning about how much we rely on electricity and wifi in our day to day lives. Most of how I spend my time is on the computer.

I write on my computer, I talk to people on my computer, I go through the Praxis curriculum on my computer. When there’s no power I can’t do any of those as well. When there’s no wifi I can’t do them at all.

I was going to shower this morning after breakfast. The water was freezing and wouldn’t warm because there was no power. I decided to wait until this evening.

I was going to have tea, but couldn’t heat it in the microwave or on the stove. When the power came back on I eagerly made a cup.

It’s so easy to forget how dependent we are on things we always have. Until they’re gone.

My Views on Authorial Intent

In my video reading poems from Inside a Writer’s Head, one of the poems prompted me to think of the authorial intent vs readers’ interpretation debate. This tends to be primarily in the realm of written work, but it could also apply to shows, movies, and other media.

In this post, I’m going to focus on my views as it relates to my own work, as that is the main application for me.

My take is a middle-ground, mixed perspective. There is support for both sides, and historically which side prevails has flip-flopped. For a long time before the recent rise of fanfiction authorial intent was king and readers’ interpretation was of lesser importance or didn’t matter at all. What the author meant by their work was what mattered, not how you or I interpreted the work to mean or convey.

I don’t think there is a dichotomy or that we have to pick one.

Both what the author intends and what the readers interpret in a given work matter. They’re both important and give insight into the work.

For example, if I employ heavy color-driven symbolism in a work to speak to characters’ emotional states or journeys, that’s my intent. If you read that story and don’t pick up on the symbolism, you’ll interpret the story based on what you did pick up on, possibly including other symbols I didn’t intend. Someone else could pick up the color symbolism and interpret it differently than I intended. There is support for all of these. None of these is “right” and the others “wrong” per se.

Everyone has different experiences, different perspectives that they bring to a work. What I bring as the author is not the same as what any of my readers bring.

Because of this, there will be different interpretations of a work. What speaks to me in a book may not speak to you. What I think is the most important part of my story may not be the most important part to you. I can hinge the plot on it, but there could be subtle elements that give a reader argument for something else being more of a driving factor.

My main point in that is art is not cut and dry or straightforward. It speaks to people in different ways based on the influences in their lives that change their perspective.

When I was twelve I got into fanfiction, both reading and writing it. That has undoubtedly influenced my perspective on this debate.

I’ve read fanfics in which I really enjoyed an unconventional take of a character and fanfics in which I really hated it. It adds so much depth to a work to see the characters in different contexts or interpreted differently or in situations they didn’t experience in canon.

Additionally, it gives writers practice maintaining consistent characters of all stripes. It is largely an outpouring of love for a given work, and it’s hard work. Sometimes fanfiction is harder to write than original work, becuase of the confines of the existing work. Keeping characters to bounds set by someone else is difficult.

Lastly, I’ve come to see fanfiction as comparable to free advertising. I have found new books, shows, and other work because of fanfiction. I’ve read fanfiction that was not obviously branded as such by the title that was fantastic and sparked interest in the characters and where they came from. And it was done for free. No one paid that writer to spend their time and effort on fanfiction. They chose to do it because they love the characters and the original work.

I can see and understand both sides of this debate in large part because I’ve written and interacted with original and derivative works.

As far as my own work goes, it’s open to interpretation. I have what I intended, but you have what you bring to my work and may take away something else. I’d love to hear about that. I want to be open about what I intend as well as open to readers’ interpretations.

[Authorial Present] Dream Investments (Poem)

This is a poem from Inside a Writer’s Head. Read more from and about the collection here.

What if I begin

to write once again?

To refine my craft

each day with time?

I’ll find myself,

one day, with such a store

of experience and writings,

Oh! such galore!

I’ll not regret that time well-spent

My investment in

my authorial present.

For a writer’s not born

with talent and skill,

but honed and created

through the daily toil.

[Thought-Block] Partially Formed Thoughts (Poem)

This is a poem from Inside a Writer’s Head. Read more from and about the collection here.

Just too far from the reaches of my mind

An idea formed, it won’t come to my eyes.

Almost inspiration, trickling perspiration

As I work to overcome the thought-block

That prevents me from unlocking

The partial, half-formed thought I had.

It’s still not quite there,

As time passes, it fades into air,

Drifting further from consciousness,

From any semblance of acknowledgement

That I caught a whisper, a breath

Of whatever was there.

I simply didn’t catch quite enough of it.

How Praxis Teaches Self-Directed Learning

Praxis, the one year educational bootcamp and apprenticeship program I’m in, encourages and guides self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning is exactly what it sounds like: Learning you pursue yourself.

In the one to two months of pre-program, Praxis participants build their website, LinkedIn, pitch deck, and professional email address. More detail on that here. This is a foundation to build on throughout the remainder of the bootcamp.

In Module/month 1, those pre-program deliverables are refined and further improved. More things are built, including some blog posts to give insight into who you are, how you work, and how you are growing. More on that here.

In Module/month 2, the self-directed learning really goes into full swing. Now participants think of, plan, and execute a month-long project to showcase existing skills or build a new skill. The project is self-directed with additional guidance and feedback from the program advisors and fellow participants.

This is as far as I’ve gotten in the program, but already I’ve taught myself the basics of making a pitch deck, telling my story on LinkedIn, making a pitch video, some video editing, and how to create and self-publish a poetry collection.

I had guidance and input, but I pursued these and the knowledge required for these on my own. I am being taught how to teach myself.

I’m developing my notetaking skills during the Wednseday calls, while reading books, and in the learning I pursue not directly tied to Praxis.

In all this, I’m being encouraged by my peers and advisors to lean in to my curiosity and seek out knowledge, and to showcase my capturing of that knowledge. That’s primarily on my blog, but I’m working to expand that to YouTube as well.

By doing projects and leaning outside of my comfort zone, I’m learning skills and expanding that comfort zone.

Based on my experience, I would say the best way to effectively master self-directed learning is this: Find or build a community of people who seek out knowledge, share that knowledge, and encourage each other in the pursuit of knowledge. Use what you learn. Do a project to learn something or to show the world you have learned it.

If you like reading this blog, please check out my Patreon. There’s some cool rewards available, just waiting for someone like you to claim them.

Some Thoughts on NaNo

It’s November, and while I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo, I have in the past and I have friends who are doing it.

At a basic level, NaNo is a 30-day writing challenge, in a similar vein to the month-long personal development projects (PDPs) that are encouraged by Praxis. You spend a month focusing as much time and energy as possible on one goal, one endeavor. At the end, if you’ve spent time each day working toward the goal, you win.

If you don’t write 50k words in November, it doesn’t matter. That’s not the real purpose. If you do, congratulations.

You really win by forming a writing habit and spending focused time working towards a goal, in this case to write a novel, for 30 straight days.

You can make your own rules.

You can set a challenging but obtainable word count goal for yourself. Maybe 50k is too much but you can handle 15 or 20 or even 30k words. Don’t aim so high that you’ll be guaranteed to burn out.

You don’t have to write fiction. You could write poems, blog posts, a non-fiction book, a series of essays. Whatever genre or type of writing you want.

If you really want to, you could decide to do an entirely different month-long project. In fact, I’d encourage you to do some kind of month-long project, NaNo or otherwise.

I’m not doing NaNo, but I am doing a PDP. For the whole month of November, I will be marketing my poetry collection, posting on social media, interacting with people, and creating blog posts and videos about self-publishing.

That’s my project this month.

Tell me about yours in the comments below!