When in company and it is discovered one has written a book, the broad subject of writing often becomes the next topic of conversation. Consequently, I have been asked many questions about writing. I have always tried my best to answer these questions, even though after having spent many years writing, editing, and rewriting papers, reports, and stories I do not consider myself an expert. When not writing I am often reading, and still am I in awe of some of the beautiful, profound, poetic passages I come across that have me wishing I had the same command of language, or the subtle insight into character and personality, or such an ability to paint with words the wonders of nature. The mastery of writing, like the mastery of music or mathematics or a thousand other things, is a life-long endeavor. Mastery is dependent on one’s goals, and is approximate, subjective, and never truly attained. Like life itself, everything well worth doing is a process. There is and always will be more to learn.
As an anecdote, one of my favorite questions was from a gentleman I met at a fundraiser for a local charity. He took a copy of The Edges of Things from the table before me, raised it to his eyes, examined keenly the cover and its illustrations, and asked me if it were fiction? I replied no, naturally, and told him, in as grave a tone as I could muster, the book was a “Duckumentary.” We shared a good chuckle (he must have been very kind). But beyond the enjoyment of meeting new people and just chatting for a time about the books, there are those who really are searching for helpful advice about writing. They often ask about the writing process, about curing writer’s block, and about remaining motivated and disciplined long enough to actually start or finish a book, especially given the challenges of contemporary life and its many demands for time and attention. I have also been asked questions of a more philosophical nature, such as the origin of ideas and inspiration.
In answer to these questions I thought it may be valuable to, rather than try to answer them individually, offer some personal experience and a broad lesson or two drawn from that experience.
When I wrote my first novel I had only the intention to write a short story with a meaningful message to present to my daughter for her birthday. The writing, however, immediately took on a life of its own. I seemed to have little say in the matter. The story came and it would not stop. I had trouble keeping up. I rarely left the house. I missed meals. I slept and I wrote. As I still do when I write, I felt strangely peaceful and blissful and amazed and awed. Who were these characters that came from nowhere? How did I know them and their cares and worries, their likes and dislikes, their hopes and dreams? How could they do unexpected, surprising things? I was driven to write by love for my daughter and the desire to give her a special gift.
Inspiration is found when we lose ourselves in a desire to help or be of service to others, and the greatest inspiration of all is love.
When it is ready, your story will come. It is already there, awaiting the opportunity to shine through the veil of all the silly distractions and superfluous concerns we are taught to immerse ourselves in. To the extent possible, remove and distance yourself from such distractions. They are the fetters upon your inspiration and the freedom of your imagination. Your story wishes to be expressed. You must allow it to be.
Remember, in this world the arrow of time guarantees your uniqueness. You have your own thoughts and ideas and experiences. The people you meet, your friends, your loved ones, your neighbors, the things you have seen, the books you have read, and the places you have been are your teachers. They have been helping you create your story, and it is unique among all the stories ever told. You are the only you that has ever been or ever will be. In the limitless spans of time and space, you are exquisitely rare, immeasurably precious, and utterly irreplaceable. There will never be another. Ultimately your story may not come in the form of a book, but be assured it will come. In whatever guise, it is still your story. Write it.