Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Labor of Love

Recently, I got to e-chat about the idea of inspiration with a few other writers. I’m going to be doing a panel at The Tucson Festival of Books in March with Janette Rallison and Jill Wolfson. The three of us have never met, but the festival organizer paired us up and told us to come up with a topic. Jill Wolfson suggested we do something based off of the quote by Edison, that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Not that we are geniuses, she clarified, but because of the fact that writing is also 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

I’d never really thought about it before, but I realized she was absolutely right, at least, in my case. I have an abundance of ideas. They come to me in dreams, in the shower, while I’m driving. My inspiration usually hits as a hypothetical. What if X happened? How would this change the characters’ lives? What kind of havoc would this reek or drama would this cause? The ones that I like I write down. Usually on the back of a bill on my desk that I manage to then promptly bury under a pile of something and lose. But if they are good enough, they stick with me nonetheless.

Right now I’m working on an adult book, that I started about a month ago. Actually, let me clarify, I was working on different adult book that I started back in August. I had a great idea, an inspiration, if you will, that came to me in the middle of the night: the perfect first scene and two interesting characters. But I got about 50 pages in and I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. As much as I wanted to sit down and write the book, I found myself reading and rereading what I’d already written and waiting for inspiration to strike to tell me where to take things. Then it did, though not for this particular book. A series of random and seemingly mundane things happened one Friday, and when I was telling my neighbor about them, she said something that caused a spark, a new hypothetical. Suddenly, I was inspired to start over with a new idea.

Was I upset about the 50 pages I’d already spent weeks toiling over? Well, to be honest, a little. But I was also excited about my new idea; I felt I could really make this work, and if I'm going to put in hours and hours and hours of writing, I want it to be on something that I feel will be a fabulous finished product. Besides, it’s also part of what I’ve come to accept as a writer -- no matter how great your initial inspiration is, it really doesn’t mean much on its own. You can’t sell your inspiration. (Well, maybe some writers can, but I’m certainly not at this point!)

So how do I get from that inspiration to completed manuscript? It's something I'm in the middle of right now, and it's work. Lots of it. Writing is an amazing job, and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do it. But it is a job nonetheless. And not an ordinary job. I can never leave work and come home and forget about it. My characters do not exit my head at 5 PM to return again at 9 the next morning. They are with me. All the time. (Today, for instance, my main character popped into my head while I was in Target and said something I know will be a crucial line near the end of the book.) At night, unlike my friends who put their children to bed and then get to watch TV, clean the house, or go to sleep, I spend a few hours writing and revising. And sometimes, I even dream about my characters.

So yeah, getting inspired is great. Exciting, even. But there are light years between this initial inspiration and a novel. The other 99%, the thinking, writing, revising? I do it because, for me, writing is a labor of love. But that doesn’t keep me from sweating through it all the same.


lisapatton said...

My sister first told me about that quote years ago. It's so true. Good luck with this book, Jill. I'm sure it will be so worth the loss of those other 50 pages!

Jillian Cantor said...

Thanks, Lisa. I sure hope so :-).

Maureen Lipinski said...

No kidding! While I'm always happy to excavate a new idea for a book, I'm like, " now what?"

Just one little idea does not a book make. I think that concept boggles the mind of non-writers.

Wish I could come see you at the book panel!!

Lori said...

I do not believe in the truth of that proportion. I would say it is rather 50/50. Writing does require an enormous amount of work (especially writing a novel) but without inspiration it is sometimes hard to write even a good sentence. I find that if I am not connected to that something that I call inspiration, all I write is kind of crappy and needs lots of editing, which would also be better done when inspiration strikes again.