Monday, 8 February 2021

Inspirations VI - A Personal Insight into Writing by Robin James

For me, inspiration has three parts. I keep them all tucked away in the back of my mind and pull them out when needed.

    The first part arrived was when I was five. I finished reading a book and for the first time ever, I noticed a name on the cover. Shock froze my muscles. It was my name. I had a hard time understanding what I was seeing. How could my name be there, on this book, in my house, if I had no memory of creating it? I stared at the cover until my eyes dried out. Eventually my mind linked a few things and I realized that it's possible for two people to have exactly the same name.

    This realization astounded me and gave me two bits of insight. The first was that other people existed outside my house as real, actual people who made real, actual things. The second was that if this person with my name could create a book, then I could too. I loved reading books so it seemed like a natural step to write one.

    Reading accompanied me throughout my life. If I wasn't doing what was required of me, I had my nose in a book. Days marched into weeks that evolved into months and morphed into years, all with a book in my hand and a stack at ready.

    As the years passed, I never shook off my desire to write a book. In addition to near-constant reading, I found great satisfaction in selecting the correct word for what I meant to say. But there were roadblocks to writing that seemed insurmountable at the time, so I kept my writing to recording observations, descriptions, and snippets until I had a better handle on things.

    Fast forward a couple of decades. I left my job, my children were grown and done school, and I'd wrangled the mental illnesses into submission. It was time to focus my energy on writing a book.

    My first discovery was that writing is hard. Snippets are easy, descriptions simple, but creating something with an actual plot and character development proved to be difficult.

    Enter the second part of inspiration: fan fiction.

    In this genre, the world and characters are already provided. All I had to do was grab my favourite characters and dump them in a new situation. Maybe fix a plot hole provided by the original writer, or put the characters in the past or future or a whole new universe.

    Writing became easier. So easy that I could churn out story after story because I loved the characters and felt like I knew them well enough to represent them in any situation. This deluge of writing helped hone the skill of creating a plot, foreshadowing, narrative voice, point of view, and tenses. While I may not have excelled in all areas, I was definitely better than when I started.

    Now it was time to go back to my original work and apply that knowledge.

    Hundreds of thousands of words later, I stumbled on an idea that I absolutely adored. All I wanted to do was immerse myself in this idea, every moment of every day. I wanted to read volume after volume of this universe, everything from the most mundane bits to the gloriously fantastical passages.

    This alternate reality I'd created in my head was weird and not bestseller material. There was the distinct possibility that only the fewest readers would be interested in joining me on the journey through the pages. So why bother? I thought. If I'm not aiming for success, what's the point?

    Inspiration part three seeped into my mind: write the book you want to read.

    Paraphrased from a quote by Toni Morrison, this bit of advice seemed so ridiculously simple while also ringing true. Writing can be simultaneously joyous and frustrating, might as well work on something enjoyable. Once that settled in my head, writing flowed with an ease I hadn't felt in a while.

    Now, whenever I stumble or fall while writing I don't allow much time to pass before picking it up again. After all, if I want to have my name on a novel I'd better write that novel, and if I want it to be the best it can be, I'd better write what I love.

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