So I just got back from vacation and we had a wonderful time at Codorus State Park. Back to nature, hearing the birds, smelling clean air, hiking. It was good.
One night, while waiting for sleep to come, I became inspired. As some of you know, I’m doing a second draft of my first novel, and it was conceived of as a trilogy. I’ve been kicking around some ideas for the second and third books, but nothing firm just yet.
In fact, I was starting to turn my mind towards another book, a stand-alone novel that is part semi-historical fantasy and hard sci-fi and set in my far-future space setting. I was working on it, outlining, defining characters, starting to enforce some order on the chaos.
But then, Bam! Inspiration.
What I saw in my minds eye was how the second novel will start. I wasn’t trying to think this up, but there it was, an entire scene, in detail, and the perfect way to pick up the story after the events of Bloodsun Rising. This leaves me with a couple of questions.
1) Why did I think this up when I was supposed to be working on a different novel? I imagine it’s because my mind is still working on the trilogy story, and isn’t ready to move on yet. In other words, I want to finish all three books before I start something new. But that’s not what I was planning, so is it a good idea? Do I let my inspiration derail my planning and put the new book on hold?
And, related to that…
2) What really is the creative process all about? I’ve heard the saying – as I’m sure you have – “One percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Is this really true? Because I write from inspiration a lot. A whole lot. In fact, most of my short stories just rush and gush out of me. I don’t even revise them much. Ok, sometimes I do. I have this one short story which is the same scene told from four different perspectives, one after another. That one has taken lots of work because I have to synchronize the four views so they match up perfectly. But usually I don’t work that hard on them. The story I posted a few days ago, “Rainy Day Suicide Patrol” came that way. One sitting, one draft, check for spelling, publish.
Please don’t think I’m trying to make myself sound good here. In fact, I wish I was more meticulous as a writer. I wish I could pull a George R. R. Martin and plan 150 character’s lives in excruciating detail. But that’s not me.
Brandon Sanderson says there are two types of writers; Planners and Gardeners. Planners do just that, they plan. Gardeners explore, and discover stories buried in the dirt. I suspect I might be a third type, Thug. I’m the writer who comes upon my muse, beats her senseless, and goes through her pockets looking for story ideas.
In any case, back to the question. How much does – or perhaps should – inspiration play in the writing of a novel? A short story is one thing because they’re usually only a few thousand words. But a novel? Bloodsun Rising currently clocks in at about 75,000 words. And I did have days where I thought the last thing I wanted to do was write, but write I did. Those were perspiration days to be sure. Still, more days than not I felt inspired. I’d sit down and suddenly a scene would unfold before me, and I wouldn’t be able to type fast enough to keep up with my excitement. That seems to be the norm for how I write.
From those of you who have written novels already, is that normal for you? Do you know other writers who work that way?
And yet it gets stranger still.
I studied Psychology in college, a decision that has benefitted me little and cost me very much money. In my advanced classes I would argue with the professors about the so-called
“unconscious”. I honestly don’t see any evidence in my life to suggest it exists*, and I see nothing in others that I can be sure is some unconscious mind at work. It seems to be anecdotal evidence at best. In fact, my brother-in-law is studying psychoanalysis in Boston, and he and I politely discuss this topic at length. I’m sure he knows more than me, but I can’t shake the feeling that believing in an unconscious is a convenient way of letting yourself off the hook for your own actions. “Gee, officer, I guess I shoplift to deal with my mother berating me when I was nine!” There’s a little voice in my head which says “Suck it up and deal with your life!”
This isn’t to say I don’t think counseling is effective, but I question psychoanalysis and a belief in an unconscious.
But here’s where it gets strange. You see that little asterisk up there where it says “I honestly don’t see any evidence in my life to suggest it exists”? Well, when I write, I sometimes catch glimpses of a mind at work that isn’t linked to me consciously. I’ll give you an example.
In Bloodsun Rising, there is a character I introduced at first simply as muscle. She was meant to be frightening and to be a challenge to the heroes, but that’s not how it worked out. I was writing a scene with her standing in a busy city square watching for the heroes, and a full back-story came to my fingers, a story so rich and deep that I was shocked. What was more shocking was that I know now she’ll be not just some muscle, but a bona-fide villain in her own right, and her presence will not only drive the action forward in books two and three, but she and her story will flesh out an entire section of the story world that I had never even thought about before.
My entire trilogy changed slightly because of her, and became richer and deeper than I initially planned. And I didn’t have to work for it at all. It just came to me, whole cloth. And she isn’t the only character where this has happened. I’m not thinking about these characters and their back stories – at least not consciously – and their stories are probably better than if I would have planned them. So what does that tell me about my writing?
I’m not willing to concede my point on the unconscious yet, but my argument is now a little weaker because of these strangely complete displays of inspiration I have. And that brings me back to the initial point. How important is inspiration vs perspiration? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer. I can tell you doing a second draft is perspiration, to be sure. That isn’t much fun. And if I rely on inspiration, I will have trouble planning. That doesn’t help me when I have deadlines, so in those cases I must perspire.
But as far as writing, I have to go with what feels right, and that’s trusting my inspiration. I’ll finish the second draft of Bloodsun Rising, then start on the second book of the trilogy and see where that goes.
Are you coming with me?