Monday, March 31, 2008

When Lightning Strikes

There are fledgling writers and artists out there who believe they must wait for inspiration to strike before they begin a project. While I can't speak for the entire creative population, I believe if most of us did that, we'd still be waiting to complete the first scene of our first book. One of the toughest lessons we'll learn as writers is inspiration usually strikes after we are already hard at work.

Now and then lightning will strike and we'll be hit over the head with a wonderful idea that takes hold and won't let go. It's happened to me several times. Like the night my dog Reiley wouldn't stop barking so I started writing about a woman who couldn't sleep because her dog wouldn't stop barking. Anyone who has heard me speak, has heard the story of how A TENDER REED (2005) came into being.

Even after Reiley's late night barking gave the book a jumping off point, there was still plenty of blood, sweat, and tears ahead for me. Writing the book did not come easy even though lightning had struck.

We have to work for inspiration. If you aren't, you'll probably never find it. A man once told me of the idea he had for a book. He described it in one sentence and said he'd been thinking of it for over 20 years. I asked, "Well, what else have you got?" He looked rather sheepish and said he hadn't moved beyond the first sentence. Guess what? His book is never going to be written.

Now and then when you least expect it, lightning will strike. You'll come across a brilliant idea and it will feel like the book practically wrote itself. The more often you fasten your rear to the chair and work through those hum-drum writing days, which are 99.9% of them, the more likely you will see lightning strike in your writing life.

What to do when it happens: Write like a crazy person. Encourage it to continue by actually working your tail off. Inspiration will not get a song or a poem written, much less an article or a full length book. There is still plenty of work ahead of you even after that initial burst of inspiration.

Don't get discouraged because the excitement fizzles and you find yourself dreading to get out of the shower in the morning and get to work. After it's finished, you'll think it's your best work. Until the next one, of course.

Enjoy the experience of lightning when it strikes. Just don't depend on it to get going.

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