Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Artistic Inspiration, When It Happens

There is a novel that has been gestating in my head for many years now, going through many changes and mutations while still on the drawing board (and through occasional attempts at actually writing it). One thing it has lacked until very recently, however, is a profound sense of inspiration, the kind that brings both great clarity and urgent motivation. I am experienced and practical enough as a writer to know that one can't always rely on inspiration to get writing done, but for a major, long-term project like a novel, it certainly helps. Looking back, I'm not sure why I have stuck with this story idea as long as I have. There have in fact been times when I abandoned it altogether, but somehow it always ended up resurfacing after some new spark of an idea cast a fresh light on the material. It is almost as though the story keeps insisting that I write it, even when I don't fully want to.

This novel, though, I am happy to say, has really come together for me both conceptually and emotionally in the last couple of months. In the past, I had a large number of ideas about the characters, their personalities, motivations, stories, and relationships, but there was always some crucial element that was missing. It was as though the story had no real center, but was rather like a fairly formless nebula spinning around in the dark recesses of my imagination.

However, about two months ago, in a way very indirectly related to a major change in my life circumstances (more like a long chain reaction than a direct cause, and by no means about that real life event), I happened upon a simple yet strong central idea for the novel. In one sense, it already had a central idea, but one that was abstract and merely philosophical. What really animated it was a concrete central idea, a new and clear conception both of the main character and of his primary, motivating conflict, in very specific and particular terms, something that made the philosophical premise immediate, human, and real. Suddenly, like a new sun appearing in the midst of the nebula, light was cast on the whole region and the clouds began to form into clearly defined planets and moons, an ordered system brought out of primeval chaos.

So, for the last two months, in between and during many hectic changes in my life, I have been secretly, busily organizing all of my myriad ideas for the story, selecting the best ideas from the many years of imagining and conceptualizing, while continually dreaming up (sometimes literally) new ideas to add to the mix. I have finally come to a place where it feels like the story is more or less there, just waiting for me to write it. I have to stress again that I do not believe this is a necessary condition in order to write a novel or any other major work--but it is of course very welcome and provides great motivation and direction, and might be just the kick I needed to actually get started writing it in earnest.

To top things off, yesterday, on a mundane Monday morning at work, entirely without intending or expecting to, I conceived the final scene of the novel. It simply occurred to me, unbidden, so suddenly and naturally, in a way that made it seem, as artistic inspiration so often does, as though it was given to me from an external source, rather than being the product of my own effort.

This idea was very simple, yet it struck me as quite poignant, and a perfect way to close the novel. Like many of my favorite endings, it is understated, subtle, yet quietly powerful. I know I run the risk of sounding like I am praising my own work, but I speak only of the idea's effect on me as it presented itself to my mind. It genuinely made my heart ache, and that was evidence that I had stumbled upon something good. I just thought, "Yes... that's it." It is so obvious in hindsight, an image that serves as a concise summation of the novel's theme and its very title. Like any artist with inspiration, I only hope I can do it justice in the finished product, which means, if I am successful, that it will make your heart ache too.

I am happy to say that this morning I began the task of setting words to paper (or screen, as the case may be). I normally don't publicly discuss my ongoing writing process, but blogging about a large-scale project such as this may help to keep me accountable to my work. I know it will most likely be a long haul, but the journey has at last begun.

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