Saturday, December 05, 2009

Finding Inspiration

By Keith Fisher

There are many places writers go to for inspiration. I’m not talking about ideas that come from outside sources, such as the baby born on a plane coming into Salt Lake the other day. What a good writing prompt that is. Also, a headline on Yahoo intrigued me. I didn’t stop to read, but it was something about an American woman being charged with murder in Italy. In the picture she looked like a nice girl. I could let my imagination soar with that one, but that’s not the kind of inspiration I’m talking about.

Recently, I discovered that every writer has doubts and fears. For some writers it can be debilitating. Even the most talented, are afraid of failure. In Ralph Keyes book, The Writer’s Book of Hope, he writes that on the day The Great Gatsby was published, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “I am overcome with fears and forebodings. . . . In Fact all my confidence is gone.”

Keyes also wrote about a condition all writers have, called AFD Syndrome. He calls it the three-legged stool we sit on when writing. Its three legs are Anxiety, Frustration, and Despair. It seems writers are prone to bouts of self-doubt and depression. Who can blame us? When we place so many people in a position of judging us? Not to mention the constant fears that our manuscripts won’t see daylight past the veritable slush pile.

It sometimes doesn’t help to actually get published either, the example of F Scott Fitzgerald illustrates this. We writers are a strange bunch.

It’s normal for a writer to fear the keyboard. But writing is the occupation we have chosen, and we need to recognize our anxiety for what it is. We call it laziness, procrastination, evasiveness, writer’s block, giving up all together, and sometimes arrogance.

The trick is to work through it. To keep going, even though your whole being cries enough! I can’t take it anymore. Keyes told the story of a young man who, after getting many rejections, went to the garage, put a hose on the tail pipe and started his car. After his death, his mother pursued the publication of his book. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and has sold over a million copies.

Perhaps that is an extreme example, but it illustrates the mood of a writer sometimes. The point is to keep trying. I have a tune floating in my head. I can’t remember who wrote it. Essentially the chorus is, keep trying. Never give up on you.

I came away from a writer’s conference, a few years ago, with the feeling of confirmation. I felt I was meant to be a writer. I considered it a sacred calling. To touch hearts and improve lives through my stories. Since then, I have been to the depths of despair over my choice to pursue what, until the conference, had only been a way of relieving stress.

But, I now have a renewed sense of self-worth. What happened? I finally caught on to what my critique group, and a good friend, has been trying to tell me about a problem in my writing. Also, I heard about a study conducted with writing teachers across the country. Almost invariably, the students who were the most talented, the ones everyone marveled over, the shinning lights on the horizon, quit writing. This is not a hard and fast rule, but for the most part, successful writers are those who keep writing. No matter what, they steadfastly pursue the dream.

So, I ask you, where do you get your inspiration? What motivated you to pick up that pen, typewriter, or sit in front of that computer? Whatever it was, try to remember it. The dream lives. There are myriad stories about successful writers who got rejected thirty, forty, even hundreds of times, before getting that book deal. The problem, however, is dealing with anxiety, frustration, and despair. (Notice I didn’t say overcoming it?)

I read, . . . the depression J K Rowling suffered when writing the first Harry Potter book, inspired her to create the dementors who, vacuum out happy memories, leaving only desperate ones. Recognize anxiety for what it is, and deal with it. Everyone has it. Don’t let it stop you.

On a final note, when a miracle happens, and they do, all time. When the miracle of publication happens, don’t stop. You will be tempted to believe it was fluke, and you couldn’t possibly do it again. Don’t believe it! Your writing voice has resonance, or you wouldn’t have been published in the first place. You have many more stories to write, get busy and write them.

The definition of a “good writer” is one who keeps writing. Even when the barking dogs are seemingly all around you, waiting to take your head off, Keep writing, never give up on you. Then, on a good day when you remember why you started to write, the fact that you are doing, what you set out to do, will bring comfort. You will know why you are a writer.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.


L.T. Elliot said...

Thank you for this one, Keith. I've sorely needed it. I hope that as you deal with your AFD, you'll remember this excellent post and come back to remember. I know I will.

April Mitchell said...

Loved this post! Thanks-here's me pushing past the anxiety : )

Kimberly Job said...

Great advice for writing--and life. :)