For me, inspiration is much the same thing as realization. Thinking about a factory setting in my novel in progress, Wash Away, I suddenly realized that the building had been a brewery before it became a chemical plant. “Realized” is the only appropriate word I could use here; it simply struck me. Even though this place is completely an artifact of my own imagination, I discovered a piece of its history.
This year for NaNoWriMo – and wish me luck with this approach, because I have no idea if it will work – I decided to write thirty scenes for my novel, one a day during November. I have a lot of threads in play, and they all need to go in certain directions, but a linear/sequential approach seems more difficult than necessary, since they’re all jumbled up in my mind. So I wrote thirty scene cards, which I will attack one at a time starting on Sunday.
Writing thirty scene cards required thirty small acts of inspiration. Inspiration is elusive, and everybody knows that. The best you can do is increase your odds. I believe in trying to cultivate a state of active waiting. The active part is attention and preparedness. If there is a place in my story and it needs a certain part, I can at least try to define the shape of that part, and be ready to recognize it when it happens to roll by me.
It’s such a presumptuous idea, to write a blog post about inspiration, as if I had it by the tail. I don’t, and I’m deeply aware that this is an area subject to what Dr. Laurie Santos calls “The G.I. Joe Fallacy.” The G.I. Joe Fallacy is mistakenly thinking that because you understand something, that understanding will change your behavior. (It comes from the phrase “Knowing is half the battle!” which I remember well from cartoon PSAs when I grew up.) I may be aware that active waiting is the best way to cultivate moments of inspiration. That doesn’t make the waiting any easier for me.
Franz Kafka wrote, in a notebook intended only for himself: “You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait. You need not even wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Robert Pirsig, in his unparalleled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, equated waiting for inspiration with the Zen state of nothingness in consciousness. If you’re trying to remove a motorcycle’s cover plate but you accidentally tear the head off the screw, you’re stuck. But wait, and “no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, this stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution. … The solutions all are simple after you have arrived at them. But they’re simple only when you know already what they are.”
Impede, implode, implant your data
Interpose apocalyptic fear
The dead are whispering wise advice
Somehow you cannot hear
The watchers know your search behavior
All your favorite sites for girls and guns
Computer eye, unblinking at you
Compiling all your deeds undone
So God led you down into the shadows
Trapped in hidden mechanism gears
Step on the gas, pedestrians scatter
Trade your life and dreams for a career
Secure your bunker, disguise your weapons
Nervous laughter edged with helpless rage
The drooling gibberish, senseless babble
Push the bird back in the cage
Feeling way too fine, that's the sign
You're about to crash
Your stardust wand, that Disney crap
Match it with your sleek stiletto blade
Spiced up, spaced out, packing heat
Jittered, jagged, and all frayed
That swirling flock of blackbirds
Flat and dreadful as a falling pane of glass
Heartbeat and breath, warmth and sleep
For what, you cannot ask
Feeling way too fine, that's the sign
You're about to crash
October is prep time for National Novel Writing Month in November. I’ll be racing for 50,000 words next month, just like thousands of others around the world. One of the best books I’ve read about writing is No Plot? No Problem!, by Chris Baty, who is the founder of NaNoWriMo. At the risk of taking all the fun out of it (it’s a really enjoyable read), here are the notes I took from this book last October while I was prepping for NaNo 2019. Think of this as a matted tangle of good advice that probably makes very little sense out of context. I highly recommend you read the book instead.
“Writing for its own sake has surprising rewards.” Seek to achieve the zone where the writer becomes a passive conduit for the story.
The deadline is the essential motivator. Low expectations, high yield, exuberant imperfection.
Find time by analyzing your own daily schedule. Set aside the internet, non-writing friends, and television. Approach scheduling with light heart and open mind.
In writing at home, isolate yourself, use uninterrupted blocks of time, limit your writing to those times, don’t write in view of a bed, be comfortable, keep the writing area neat.
Listen to the voice of the universe giving you material; use a notebook to write it down.
Benefits of limited planning: you might stumble across something brilliant; planning becomes an excuse to put off writing; prewriting takes the fun out of writing.
What, to you, makes a good novel? What is the novel you want to read?
What are the things that bore or depress you in novels? Make these two lists. If you won’t enjoy reading it, you won’t enjoy writing it.
Pitch the plot to yourself, from start to finish, repeatedly.
What would happen if we added an orangutan to the mix?
The story suggests its own setting. Model your settings on real-life locations you know.
During week one: Confiscate the inner editor.
Take the challenge seriously. But do not take the work too seriously. Ride the momentum. Don’t delete, but mark sections to be deleted.
Keep a novel notes file. Don’t tell anybody your story.
Write about something that scares you. Ask somebody to tell you about their strange uncle.
Watch a good TV show with analysis in mind.
Don’t feel like each chapter has to be right before moving on to the next one.
Split up writing sessions, two a day, and write every day during week one. Wake up 30 minutes early.
Week two: Still having no plot is not uncommon. Characters may rise and fall in importance. “Don’t get it right, get it written.”
When you’re not writing, be open to “plot flashes.”
Create notes within the story to indicate idea changes, don’t go back and change earlier chapters.
Push yourself to exhaustion because you know you’ve got the potential.
Switch to writing on paper sometimes.
End your writing sessions in mid-sentence.
Week three: Catch up on any word debt. Feel gravity taking effect as the trail turns downhill. Let the momentum fly. Break things, break a character’s arc. Add more conflict.
Week four: Finish. Write the ending, regardless of how far away you think you are. Come-from behind victories are a time-honored part of NaNoWriMo.
Good luck to anybody who is participating this November. God bless NaNoWriMo and Chris Baty.
I’m tremendously pleased this week to interview an author I really admire: Susan Balogh. Susan is a holistic healing and happiness coach – and writer! – whose 2019 book, 100 Days of Actions and Intentions To Create the Life You Wish For, is something like a detailed treasure map to living a happier, more fulfilled life. Every page sparkles with insights and guidance, with practices each day to bring the experiences to life. Here is a beautiful quote from the book:
“When you’ve brought your mind and body into harmony with the natural free spirit within you, you allow the wellbeing to flow, and when it flows, all good things come your way with effortless ease.”
Susan, how would you describe your book, 100 Days of Actions and Intentions To Create the Life You Wish For?
The overall goal of the book is to help you feel better on a daily basis so that you begin to attract healthier, happier experiences and relationships. It’s also meant to help readers believe in themselves and believe in their desires, as well as their ability to achieve them. I really wanted them to feel as though the words they were hearing were specifically meant for them, so I tried to make it very relatable. Since it’s meant to help you practice feeling how you want to feel, it’s written from the reader’s point of view. I did my best to design it in a way that would gradually build up their positive momentum. The idea was to keep leveling up to a higher level of wellbeing throughout the book.
Your book is structured with readings, guidance, and actions daily over a 100-day period. How did you choose this structure, and did you find it easy to work with while you were writing your book?
For the reader’s best possible results for a personal transformation, I felt it was important to encourage a daily practice. It also needed to be long enough to practice the actions and intentions until they became a routine thought or habit, if so desired.
Each chapter has its own topic with a beginning and ending. That made it quite easy to write the book. However, I made it all-inclusive of anything I felt was important to include about life. I wanted it to feel a bit like a handbook for life that could help someone feel better from morning to night. That was the goal, and it became a lengthy project that was well worth my time!
Your book is also structured with three major 30-day sections. Can you give us an overview of each of the three sections?
Each step is meant to help you practice a feeling until it becomes a part of who you are. The first thirty days are meant to help you practice the feeling of total wellbeing.
The second step is practicing more love and appreciation for yourself and all that life brings you. It’s focused on improving your relationship with yourself and others, and feeling more deeply satisfied with your life.
Step three is meant to help you achieve an abundance mindset and gain clarity on your wishes and dreams.
Who are some of the authors who have influenced you? What books would you like to recommend?
Deepak Chopra was one of my favorites when I started becoming more purposeful in my thinking. I loved The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and kept it close for a lot of years.
Another somewhat unusual writer and a favorite of mine is Wallace D. Wattles, who wrote his books in the early 1900’s, three of the most popular being The Science of Getting Rich, The Science of Being Well, and the Science of Being Great.
Is there a time of day you like to write? A certain place you like to write?
I have found myself writing morning, noon, and night, and haven’t found a favorite time yet. However, some of my favorite moments are those I’ve spent writing on my laptop and sipping on wine, while seated at a restaurant patio that overlooked the water. I also tend to wake up in the morning with an idea for a new book or the book I’m writing and speak it right into my phone to get the idea in there before it’s forgotten.
Do you write every day? Do you outline before you write?
I am in the habit of writing every day, yes. I’m usually eager to get to it and I find it so exciting that it never feels like work. Generally I get a whole bunch of ideas that keep coming again and again, and then I finally stop to look at all of it and try to put it in some kind of order. I think I feel better putting down the ideas when I think of them. But oddly, I often end up starting over and ignoring everything I wrote down. Ha! But I find it all comes back to me.
When I am caught up in a writing project, I know I sometimes dream about the characters or dream I am writing. Have you had an experience like that? Are you an intuitive writer?
I often imagine I have a client or potential reader sitting in front of me and that helps me think of what they may need or want to hear. Much of what I write is based on what I’ve learned in my own personal experiences, as well as the research I did over a period of many years when I needed it for my own self-healing purposes. Since I never refer to anything as I write, I consider myself a very intuitive writer. I feel that it’s the best way to write; from the heart. And I often feel guided as I’m writing.
How have you promoted your book? Has the pandemic interfered with your plans for promotion? Do you think the marketing of your book has gone according to plan?
When the book first came out on 2019 I had it on a few discounted book promotion sites that were very helpful. I have also enjoyed doing several book signings and presentations at various book stores and libraries. I did some advertising through Amazon that seemed to go well. Since the pandemic began I’ve been so focused on writing new books that I haven’t thought of any upcoming plans for promotion. I do things rather spontaneously, rather than by following a plan.
What new writing projects do you have coming up that you’re excited to tell us about?
I’m finishing up now on a self-discovery workbook that is based on step 1 of the first book and should be available in a couple weeks. I plan to do step two and three as well. And I have written outlines for several books that will become my new journal series. I intend to have a couple of those out before Christmas as well.
Honestly, my favorite part of having my books written is that I can keep them on hand and give them to someone I meet that might enjoy it. It’s a thrill for me every time.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I believe there’s a book in each and every one of us. If you know something of value to someone else, such as a life lesson you learned or a great story to tell, there’s someone out there who wants to read it. And it can be so exhilarating to see your book out there and to know there are people around the world who are reading it. It’s much easier than you think it is. Do it well. Do it with heart. And let it be fun. You can even make a career out of it if you want to.
Thank you for a great interview, and best of luck, Susan!