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.

Effective Writing Critique

I’ve been part of writing groups, both in person and informally online. The best way to improve your own writing and be able to read it critically is to learn how to critique other people’s writing.

It’s easier to find problems in other people’s writing, because you experience it as the reader rather than the author.

I’ve grown as a writer through working with Justine on Over the Invisible Wall and having a consistent exchange of writing. We’ve been reading and critiquing each other’s work since the beginning. That helps both of us to see what we’re doing right and wrong and point that out to the other person.

This is the blogging month with Praxis, and we write a post and comment on two other people’s posts everday. Not only are we practicing writing itself, but we’re also practicing writing critique.

I’ve made a point of noting places the post I read was confusing or distracting or any other problems that seemed to be in how the post was written.

But I’m not overly critical of the piece, and my approach is important. If I only provide negative feedback, that will bring my cohort down.

I can’t just point out what’s wrong, I also have to point out what’s right and what I like about the post.

Having that positive feedback is not only encouraging, it also makes it easier to take the criticism, to realize that it’s not an attack, but intended to be helpful.

With my experience of giving critique in the past and practicing it now, I’m improving my ability to look at my own work critically. I get quicker at recognizing the problems in my own posts, my own writing, and learn how to fix them.

Writers can’t improve in a vacuum. Writing practice will take you far, but critique can multiply the benefits for you and your fellow writers.

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.

Module 2 Project Wrap-up

This post will be updated on the 30th with any new information about my project.

It’s the last week of my portfolio project marketing my poetry collection.

I got my copies of Inside a Writer’s Head in the mail before expected, and I’ve sold three copies. I set up my sale page to direct people to last Wednesday, but haven’t gotten any sales through it yet.

I sold a copy to my boyfriend, my local library, and some long-time friends of mine. I’m sending a copy to Jacob Beman as a thank you for designing the cover.

I’m expecting more sales after I announce the giveaway winners, because every entrant is getting a coupon code for my sale page. If you haven’t entered and want a chance to get the ebook for free, check out the giveaway page. It explains how to get four different entries to maximize your chances of winning.

The main video this week is a reading of some poems from the collection. I’m editing the two short videos I made reading related poems today. They will be up by the end of the month for sure, but I’ll be working on getting them out today.

I started my Instagram at the beginning of the month. In that time I’ve gained 47 followers. I’ve posted once a day every day.

On Twitter:

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On Facebook:

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I posted every day on Facebook and Twitter as well. I shared the images from Instagram and most days I also shared my blog post for the day. This week that was poems from Inside a Writer’s Head.

At the end of this month I will have created 6 Youtube videos, hit 61 straight days of blogging, run a giveaway, increased my social media presence, and sold 3+ copies of Inside a Writer’s Head.

I structured my week fairly loosely. I created the blog post(s) for the week first, as they would serve as a base for the video(s). For most of the month, I didn’t plan my Instagram posts, and read through my poems to choose lines for the images every morning. This last week I had already selected which poems were going on my blog, so I shared those on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to tie everything together.

I typically spent 2-3 days shooting and editing video. It could have taken less time, but devoting time around my job it took that time. Some of the videos took less time, because I had less video to edit before it was done, but one week the video was 17 minutes to start, and one of my videos reading poetry was initially around 20 minutes.

I really learned how to make a single, coherent, focused product through video making and through the daily blogging exercises I’ve been doing. I have to keep a video focused on the topic of that video. I have to keep a blog post focused on the topic for that blog post. To do that, I have to center myself and my thoughts on that topic and focus myself on it so I produce content that stays with my chosen theme.

Next month is the writing month in Praxis, so I will continue my daily blogging. I also plan on running another giveaway, this time with more possible prizes including the Inside a Writer’s Head ebook, a pdf of my novella The Diary of Kaashif Sarwan, coupon codes for the poetry collection, the bonus content, and maybe another mystery prize. I’ll also continue making at least one video/week.

[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.

Expression (Poem)

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

Some things can’t be said in words,

not even in your thoughts,

it simply can’t be expressed that way.

Module 2, Week 3 Project Update

This week has been the most problem-free so far, but still had its challenges.

I mentioned in my first project update that I had problems with my proofs from BookBaby. I actually found a new problem in the new proofs they sent me.

I had written the acknowledgements before I knew who was designing the cover for Inside a Writer’s Head. I thought I’d be working with Alexandra Wagner, so I wrote her name in. I ended up working with Jacob Beman, as I’ve mentioned. That was great and I shared that information. But I forgot to update the acknowledgements.

I noticed that it was wrong and had to message the BookBaby support team to figure out how to resolve it. I submitted a new book file, and they agreed to fix that one mistake in the ebook for me. They have a fee for additional changes or for submitting a new file, but they made an exception because it was just one mistake.

I got my new design proofs back, and I should get the books I ordered by the end of the month. I’m still not entirely sure when the ebook will be available for sale, though.

Last week I had the idea of running a giveaway of the collection. I acted on that the day after having the idea and posted about it on Instagram. I made it possible for any person to have three changes to win, one from each social media platform I’m on — Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To enter people have to like and share the post and follow my account on that platform. Then I send them their entry number(s) as a direct message.

Right now I’m tracking entries in a spreadsheet recording the person’s username, the platform(s) entered on, and their entry number(s). I also expanded the possible entries to my blog and pinned the post with the explanation of how to enter each way. So far only four people have entered. I’m trying to keep talking about it so people will be more likely to see it and enter. I mention it in my photo posts with poetry quotes on them.

I’m not sure if my audience is currently too small to run a successful giveaway or if people don’t care or both. That’s something I’ve noticed about my project. Because I’m just starting out building my platform and interacting with people on social media and sharing my work more, I have a small audience and very little incoming interaction. 26 people like my Facebook page, 27 people follow me on Twitter, and 41 people follow me on Instagram. I get the most interaction on Instagram, but I feel more limited by the necessity of images. I need to practice creating photos for my blog posts in order to promote them on Instagram as well.

I’ve realized during this project and from the Praxis Wednesday last week that I’m really building my creative brand. I initially wanted to sell my poetry collection, but it’s not available yet. Yes, I’ll be selling a product, but to interest people in that product, I have to sell them on me and my work more generally.

Because of that obstacle, this has morphed a bit in my mind into building creative habits, connecting with people on social media to sell myself and my blog. That will take time. It aligns with my longer-term goals of being a freelance writer or making money doing creative work.

For the video and blog content directly tied to my project, I talked about how I completed my poetry manuscript in two weeks. I made a video on the same topic, which is embedded in that blog post.

Next week, which starts Thursday, I plan to post some of the poems in Inside a Writer’s Head to this blog, so stay tuned! I want my video to be me reading those poems.

I’m thinking about posting recordings of me reading my work, from Inside a Writer’s Head, other poems, and short stories to SoundCloud, but I’m not sure if it would be worth the time. I also found out that there is a 3 hour upload limit for free accounts, which may be a problem if I do pursue this.