What Inspires You?

Posted July 25th, 2013 by Jen Bryant

7_25verticleI love the fact that the etymology of “inspire” is rooted in the body, that it’s a physical manifestation of the metaphysical. (After all, that’s what writers—and other artists—do, isn’t it? Make the invisible visible?) In that sense, the word translates as “giving breath to” or “inflaming.” Whenever I give a workshop or talk to aspiring writers, I emphasize the role that our bodies have in perception and memory. I urge them to set their stories in places they know well, using their stored perceptions of that place: what it looks like, sounds like, smells like, etc—in order to bring their scenes and characters to life.

The part of “inspire” that I object to is the implied assumption that the act of writing is somehow magical and immediate, that it comes from outside of the writer, and that certain people “have it” and others don’t. (Not true!) 7_25verticleBWhen I visit a school, talk to a book group, or do a library presentation, someone inevitably asks that question: “What inspires you to write your books?”—and I always struggle to answer it. On the one hand, I don’t want to shortchange the labor –the time, effort, false starts, rewrites and sheer perseverance—that it takes to bring every poem, story, essay or novel to fruition. On the other hand, I recognize that there are certain moments in the creative process where things “click”—where disparate ideas or images present themselves as useable material, and seem to do so without the writer’s conscious intervention.

But these are not “magic.” I prefer instead to view them as triggers or generators and I believe that, for me, my stories are most often triggered by place. Small towns, barnyards, artists’ homes and studios, museums and courtrooms, are examples of places that have spawned my novels, poems, and biographies. Other writers are not as inspired by place, but instead are triggered by dialogue, music, or personal experience.

How about you? What makes you want to write, paint, dance, compose, or sing?



2 People have left comments on this post

» Caroline McAlister said: { Aug 15, 2013 - 12:08:23 }

I absolutely loved this post. Very helpful.

» Caroline McAlister said: { Aug 15, 2013 - 12:08:28 }

I absolutely love this piece about place and inspiration. Very inspirational and important to keep in mind in this increasingly virtual world.


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