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Interrupted by Inspiration

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A goal I’ve set for myself recently is to read through the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy—whether by listening to them on audio (I have the entire unabridged set of CDs) or by actually reading the books. Well, I’ve had trouble convincing myself to put the CDs back in the car after I got to about disk six of the first book (and they’d barely made it to Bree!), so I picked up the actual book to read before bed last night.

Things were going along swimmingly—I was actually picking up on details that would have been helpful to know a few weeks ago when I started answering LOTR trivia questions on Facebook. Then, suddenly, I was no longer in Middle Earth, but standing on the deck of a ship, observing the silhouette of an officer looking out into the night.

Yes, that’s right, in the middle of reading Aragorn’s explanation of the Black Riders, I was suddenly visualizing a scene for the second book of my historical trilogy. Needless to say, I tossed the book aside and picked up the notepad and pencil I keep right beside the bed for just such an occasion.

I only got two pages written, not nearly all of what I was picturing, but it’s a great start on a scene (I think poor Julia may have broken a toe or two). And not only was it fun to be writing something for the second book (although I try not to write out of sequence), it gave me some insight into the tension between William and Julia at that point in the story (where exactly it fits, I’m not sure, but I think pretty early on), so that I’ll be able to incorporate the possibility for it as I work on revisions of the first book.

This is not the first time I’ve been struck with a major bit of inspiration for a scene like this. Two and a half years ago when Rachel Hauck was in town doing some research for her Nashville-set books, we went to the Bluebird Cafe to listen to music. While there, I had a flash of inspiration for a scene in Stand-In Groom, which I was still trying to get finished at that point in time. Over the next two hours, I wrote on every napkin I could get my hands on—while still enjoying the music and the company.

Another time, when I was home in Baton Rouge for a family wedding, we all went to the Saturday evening Southern Gospel service at my grandmother’s church. One of my cousins and his wife (who live here in Nashville, actually) were doing a mini-concert after dinner. The tables were covered with white butcher paper. And I had a pen. By the time we left a few hours later, I had to tear off a 3-foot by 4-foot section of the table “cloth” to take home with me, because I’d been brainstorming possible plotlines for my newest idea, Ransome’s Honor (well it was actually Ransome’s Quest then—I thought it would only be one book).

Ever since I was in junior high school, I have carried some kind of notebook or journal to church with me to take sermon notes. With a mind as prone to wander as mine is, taking notes is one of the only ways to ensure I pay attention. Plus, to me, it’s a way to show respect to my pastor, who spent countless hours developing that sermon. But there are some Sundays when, no matter if it’s a great sermon or just so-so, I find myself suddenly jotting down notes on a story or character. For example: when I was in revisions on Stand-In Groom, I was also in the process of trying to find a new church home. I was visiting Christ Church Cathedral Episcopal in downtown Nashville, enjoying the service when, in a flash, I knew exactly what Anne’s spiritual conflict was.

I’ve written before about how the root of the word “Inspiration” is “Inspire”—meaning to take in breath. It reminds me of two lines from the old hymn, “Breathe Upon Us“:

    Breathe upon us, breathe upon us,
    With Thy love our hearts inspire. . . .

Every writer gets inspired differently. In Of Other Worlds, C. S. Lewis wrote that writers cannot necessarily explain where inspiration comes from. (“When you ‘have an idea,’ could you tell anyone exactly how you thought of it?”) Some are inspired by art, others by music, others by drama, others by being in nature. There’s a reason why my tagline is: Inspired by Life . . . Molded by God. “Life” sounded better than “Everything.”

Getting flashes of inspiration is great—but if I don’t act upon that inspiration, if I just let it float in and float right back out again, I may be losing something special. Every single manuscript I’ve ever written—and a bunch that I began and never finished—started as a flash of inspiration . . . or at least as an idea inspired by something I observed. That’s why I have an “Ideas” folder on my computer containing documents with everything from one or two sentences to nearly full-blown synopses of story ideas I’ve been inspired with. Sure, I may never get around to writing them, but they’re there, preserved, should I ever get to the point when I’m in need of an idea to inspire me to write.

Where does your inspiration come from? What’s the most unusual place you’ve gotten a flash of inspiration and had to immediately write it down?

  1. Tuesday, October 9, 2007 10:00 am

    Wish I knew. My ideas form so slowly, it’s hard to pinpoint when/where I got a flash. Of course, I got a flash last night, but only for an idea I will never, ever use.


  2. Tuesday, October 9, 2007 10:15 am

    Never say never!


  3. Tuesday, October 9, 2007 1:38 pm

    Why am I having to find out from your BLOG that you’re reading through LOTR?? I inspired you, didn’t I? C’mon, admit it! 😉


  4. Tuesday, October 9, 2007 1:58 pm

    My inspiration comes when I read history books. When I tour museums and see a dress or a piece of furniture, a document or a photograph. I start asking questions. Who wore this? How did this piece of European furniture get to frontier Minnesota?

    Particularly when I read about hardships and how people came through them, I wonder what life in that situation would’ve been like and would I have done as well under the circumstances.

    Then I chew over the ideas, dream about it, let it ‘gel’, then I pour a glass of WHINE and try to start the story. 🙂


  5. Tuesday, October 9, 2007 2:49 pm

    I’ve had it happen just about every way you can think. However, I only get crystal-clear “flashes” when I’m in a workshop taught by Susie Warren.

    I’m also a lot like Erica. It has to sit there and gel and percolate for a bit. I’ll change a character around, change names, change location, etc, just trying to see what would work the best.

    Take my Epic for instance. The original idea happened nearly 12 years ago. It now bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original idea, with the exception of one character’s name. And it’s a better story now than it was way back when.


  6. Wednesday, October 10, 2007 2:43 pm

    Ideas intterupt me all the time. I have note pads all over the place and carry a little not book on me so I can write them down when they hit me 😀



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