Inspiration is one of those elusive words, like “muse” and “success.” It evades us, confounds and confuses us, bewitches when it visits and devastates upon its departure. It’s that girl glimpsed across the subway terminal, or that place in a dream that you just can’t get to.
I receive a lot of questions from readers asking about my motivation behind my epic fantasy series A Pattern of Shadow & Light and what inspired me to write the series (my answer is at the end of this post).
In looking this over, I recalled an idea that I thought might prove helpful to other writers or anyone involved in the creative arts, namely:
What inspired you once can inspire you again.
There’s an axiom about purpose that comes to mind. I’ve spoken to artists and writers (especially new ones), who launch upon a project with verve and passion, only to grind to a halt somewhere short of the middle of the work, when things start getting sticky and that initial spurt of creation wanes.
Very quickly, their original purpose becomes lost beneath complexities and confusions that need experience to unravel. The result for newer artists or writers lacking that experience—and even sometimes for professionals if they’re not staying alert—is a feeling of failure. More specifically, it’s a failure along that initial line of purpose.
When you hit a failed purpose in any venture, the result is a feeling of being stopped. All action forward ceases. Your work comes to a grinding halt and sinks into a mud of frustration and uncertainty.
This is the point in any creative undertaking when innate talent and inspiration must defer to experience and technique to get them out of that mire. But for artists/writers without the experience or knowhow to get through that bog, it can signal the end of the adventure.
Yet the solution is simple: rekindle the initial purpose in whatever way you can, and the stops you’re experiencing will blow.
Return to your initial inspiration. Revitalize it through conversation with others. Review your notes. Reread earlier parts of the story which were written in the thrall of your muse. Revisit again the sources that once inspired you.
Once you’ve rekindled the failed purpose, you’ll find life and action has been restored to your creative work.
On my own inspiration and Kingdom Blades
As I’ve been progressing in writing this epic tome involving twelve storylines of political intrigue, treachery and war (along with some really fascinating developments with Tanis, Ean and Darshan), I’ve really had to keep my nose to the effort and not look too far into the as-yet unwritten, because the task becomes impossibly daunting. At 400+ manuscript pages, I’m probably only 40% into the story (for those of you without a math degree, this means it’s going to be a long book).
And at a million words or so into this series, trying to keeping taking these characters in new and unexpected directions is more difficult than you might imagine. I don’t just want to bring you, my readers, through more war and strife just to create conflict. There has to be purpose behind it. It has to be thought-provoking. I have to be interested in the storyline.
Nor is it enough for me to let a primary character coast along without being challenged, without experiencing growth. But some of these characters are only a shade shy of perfect (Trell comes to mind). Trying to come up with ways to challenge him and his integrity is certainly challenging me!
When I was in high school, I fell in love with Atlas Shrugged. Not with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy, but with the strength of her characters. I have yet meet characters in any story that show a stronger sense of personal integrity. I admired so much their strength of will. I wanted to know those people in real life.
After my fourth reading of the book, I thought, This is ridiculous. Why should I keep reading the same book over and over just to be able to visit these characters? I decided to write my own story with characters I could similarly admire, characters who could inspire me and others towards greatness. This way they would always be with me, and I would be able to take them on new adventures instead of reliving the same adventure numerous times.
As the work progressed, of course it grew into far more than just my own evolved playground for imaginary friends. For me, this series is a way of communicating ideas and philosophies, and of inviting others to participate in looking at and evaluating circumstances and situations they might not otherwise think about.
There's more to this story in relation to the paths of exploration that led me ultimately to this series (perhaps the topic of another future post), but my initial inspiration for writing remains the same. I still look to it when I’m at a loss for where to take a character next. I want to admire them, and I want you to be able to admire them, to find parity with them (even with the immortals), to be able to see their humanity and their frailties, as well as their heroic hearts.
In looking where next to take a character, I ask myself, how I can challenge him/her? I ask, what would the reader probably next expect here? and then I often try to take the story in a different direction.
I spend a good deal of time determining what philosophical message each character’s story line is intended to convey or forward. I try to think up ways to surprise you.
And I listen to your feedback and do my best to give you more of what you request—more time with your favorite characters, more explanation of the world’s history, more love scenes…though I’m not so sure about that last one. 😉
But regardless of the philosophical underpinnings, exploration of morality and allegorical struggles, ultimately I’m writing this series for your entertainment and for mine. I hope it provides all of you with that sense of escape to another world which is so essential to my own peace and contentment.
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I’m always open to your thoughts and views. Please feel free to share them below.