Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Defending Inspiration

My guest today is Samantha Hunter. She’s written sixteen books for Harlequin. She's worked as a university writing instructor for ten years and Sam's been writing full-time since 2005. Sam loves to cook, being outdoors and she’s a quilter who makes some gorgeous bags, and a self named bag addict.

As with anything creative, inspirattion plays a big part. That's true whether you're doing a painting, decorating a home, doing crafts, writing music or stories. The best of those endeavors comes with being inspired and the excitement of creating that mental picture. Being involved with crafts and writing; I’d say Samantha Hunter is well familiar with the concept of inspiration.



I saw a comment on Twitter yesterday, where someone posted a quote that said “If you wait for inspiration, you’re a waiter, not a writer.” As quippy as it is, that made me sad.

A lot of writers dismiss inspiration, and I have to admit, that’s not me. I believe in the magic, the spark, and the muse. I consider myself a writer who does wait for inspiration – and that hasn’t kept me from producing sixteen books for Harlequin to date with several more that have either not been published or are in the works.

To me, inspiration is not antithetical to the work of writing, but it is the air that writers breathe – it’s what keeps us going. It’s the initial idea, the premise, the strike of brilliance, the trigger, whatever you want to call it. It’s the “roll” we get on or the thing that breaks the block. It’s the power behind the words, the thing that makes craft more than mechanics. It’s that feeling that pushes us through a book, and I think in the best of cases, the reader can feel it, too – when they are completely sucked in, or find a moment in a book making them laugh or moving them to tears.

When we get inspired, following a spark, we can work like we’re on fire, write page after page, barely able to keep up. Then the work starts to suggest itself, the book starts rolling out in front of us – the work fuels inspiration this way, too. The more we write, the more ideas we have to keep writing.

What I have found is that the process of being inspired is a lot like meditating – if you relax, if you open your mind to the world and the possibilities, it works. A lot of people don’t want to stake their careers on that, but I can’t imagine having a career without it, if only because it’s part of the joy of writing. I’ve found that the only time I am really happy and writing my best is when I am inspired, and I’ve also found that the more you encourage it, the more often it comes. But that’s just me.

So why do so many writers dismiss inspiration, as if it’s something that gets in the way of work rather than something that fuels it? I suppose because they fear it won’t come to them, and that’s a scary thing. I’ve also thought that writers might think that admitting that they believe in inspiration might make them seem flighty or floofy…but that’s where the work comes in. I believe in being inspired, and I don’t think any of my editors or my agent would consider me irresponsible or not having a good work ethic – I have never missed a deadline. I consistently propose new ideas, I finish books. I write almost every day, and sometimes, I do write even when I’m not “feeling it,” because we have to, but if I am really uninspired, I really can’t write. Yes, that’s scary. But, usually, if I relax and remind myself what it is I love about what I do, and maybe go work in my garden for a while, it comes back.

In the end, it’s whatever works for you – writing is highly individualistic. What’s right for one person is not right for someone else, and that’s okay, but I reject the wholesale dismissal of inspiration in our world. Sure, we have to know the business, the craft, the market, etc but we can’t let it take over, and I find believing in inspiration is the best defense. Twitter being what it is, also offered up a quote I did like, one that balanced out the scales, and that was from Ray Bradbury, who said “You must stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you.” So, I’ll leave it at that. :-)
***
Samantha Hunter lives in Syracuse New York with her husband and several pets. Since January 2004 when she sold her first book to Harlequin Blaze, Virtually Perfect, she has gone on to publish several more with new releases on the way. Sam holds two Master's degrees and was a university instructor for many years before quitting to live the writing life.
Visit Sam's author Blog at www.loveisanexplodingcigar.com.

18 comments:

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sam, I read Hard To Resist. Loved the premise. Wah hoo, a photgrapher working on a hunk calendar. Jarrod was hot and sexy and a Texas Ranger. Loved the interaction between the two and the suspense. Had a great ending too.

Just thought I'd share that with you.

Kat Sheridan said...

Ah, Samantha, at last a writer after my own heart! Here is what I loved: "the JOY of writing". So often we forget that part. Staring at that blank page, all tied up in knots and worries. That's when I remind myself how it felt when I started doing this writing thing. Joy, pure and simple. And you are so right, the more we relax the more we are open to inspiration--to that serendipitous "something" that sends us flying back to the keyboard. And I'm putting your Ray Bradbury quote in my "inspiration" file (yes, I DO have one of those--every writer should!) Wonderful to meet you!

And Sia, I always trust your book recommendations. I'll have to add this one to my list! Now then, I happen to know you made brownies last night. Did the hungering hoards leave any crumbs for those of us who breakfast late?

Samantha Hunter said...

Sia, thanks so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and thanks again for inviting me to Over Coffee. :)

Kat, I think there's too little talk of joy and inspiration, for my taste anyway. We talk so much, for instance, about the work of research, but we don't talk as much about the pure fun of making things up! LOL It was a revelation to me, frankly, after also being caught up too much in angst and knots (neither of which are good for writing).

It's wonderful to meet you, too. :)

Sam

jrafferty said...

Samantha, I agree with you. Inspiration is the juice that makes us energized and ready to take the biggest leaps ahead as creative people. It is possible to soldier on without it, but wears you down when the task starts to feel like a job you have to do.

James Rafferty

VA said...

Samantha, like Kat, I really like the Bradbury quote. Fiction is creating, and I think inspiration is crucial to ending up with a more satisfying product. After all, when someone is just going through the motions, regardless of what it is, it never matches the power of true passion - inspiration.

Just curious, how much your previous life as a professor influences your writing?

Thanks for another fine find Sia.

Judi Fennell said...

Ah, drunk on writing. I like that line. Can I include some champagne in there, too? ;} I love that spark that starts the story off for me. Love when it hits - and when it keeps it rolling. The one thing I had to remember once I started writing to deadline was not to lose the joy.

Samantha Hunter said...

James, you nailed it -- we definitely can "soldier on" and who hasn't? But it's a very limited thing, and I don't feeel that I do my best writing in that mode.

VA, thanks for coming by, and for the great question! My academic life was a huge influence, in a lot of different ways. First and foremost, I had ten+ years of talking about and studying writing almost every day, with students and other professional writers. As a graduate student, I worked with very demanding advisors who pushed me to write my best -- that sticks with you. I also learned, though teaching and being a student, about meeting deadlines, taking and giving criticism, and how to revise. It all thought me how to think, how to analyze, so I think this all contributed toward the sale of that first book -- I had a big writing history going in (but then SO much to learn about writing fiction and the industry!).

Judi, I like it, too -- there was some confusion over whether it was Hemingway or Bradbury, but a quick Google search turned up Bradbury, LOL. Writing is so hard... such a challenge, but yes, we have to be able to find the joy in it, and the fun, or why bother?

Sam

kimberly Van meter said...

Sam,

For me, inspiration is a mixed bag. I love to write so I rarely need to wait for inspiration to hit me but there are times when my brain is a blank slate and that's when it's difficult to write. When that happens I read news. There is nothing like reality as a springboard for ideas. Or I look at pictures. Beautiful, quirky, odd, majestic...they all inspire me. So I think you have to actively look for your inspiration, too. You can't just wait around for it to bonk you on the head.
I do get annoyed by people who claim they'd LOVE to write a book but they're waiting to be inspired by something truly moving. Get real. Just write. The process of writing unclogs the brain and beautiful things can happen on the page. But if you don't get cracking...nothing will happen and that inspired moment will just get farther and farther away.
Great blog! Thought provoking!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia, Hi Sam,

Thanks for the great post. I'm like you, I need, crave, want, LOVE the spark of inspiration-the muse. It's the only way to start a book. I've written some books that didn't have the spark and it showed in the writing. Now, you don't need the spark everyday-but it has to be somewhere in the work or the story turns to dust...at least for me.

Cheers!

Samantha Hunter said...

Kim, it's true that inspiration is all around -- we just have to be open to it. Insofar as pushing through the writing and finding it, having great things happen -- that's true too, sometimes. Other times it doesn't work, and you have to step away, sometimes for a while, to wait and see what inspires you. At least, that's how I work.

I think people who say that (I want to write a book, but waiting to be inspired) are right, in a way -- I don't think any single one of us could ever sit down and write a book without being inspired in some way. Those folks know that they aren't. LOL Because writing takes a lot of energy, and I think that energy comes from inspiration.

Nancy, exactly -- Not all writing days are equal, but when it's really miserable or impossible I do tend to step away. I hear you on the spark not showing... sometimes that's how it is.

I wrote a chapter last week (I have been in a slump since RWA and just got my spark back), that I thought was "suffucient" -- definitely not inspired, though it had to be done. I also assume I will probably go back and revise it later. But it was, objectively speaking, good enough to get the job done -- but not good enough to really shine. We can't be shiny everyday. ;)

But I also wrote that chapter, knew it was a little weak, and then stopped writing for a few more days until I felt some spark come back. I wouldn't keep writing in that mode. Now I am back where I need to be...

Sam

Samantha Hunter said...

Of course, thinking back to Kim's comment, I also know people who make every excuse in the book, who talk more about writing than spend time doing it, who are on Twitter all day but talking about how they can't get their writing done... these people are not inspired to write. If they were, they would.

It's that simple. My guess is that they need to find the thing that really does inspire them, and do that -- because if they aren't writing, then chances are that's not where their joy or inspiration lies. The whole follow your bliss thing...

Sam

~Sia McKye~ said...

"We can't shiny everyday."

That's so very true. Sometimes it's getting the words and scene down, making sure the dots connect. That's the work. Once it's down, we can always go back and make it shine. IMO, working it through with our writing in difficult spots, the act of getting it down unlocks the inspiration. I go back later and it all clicks.

You can't polish what's not there.

Samantha Hunter said...

Sia, I agree, as long as what's there is mostly right in the first place, as long as you have the story in the larger sense, right. Pushing writing forward, if we are heading in a bad direction, won't do us any good, I don't think.

I wrote a few paranormals for my agent a few years ago -- they were terrible. Entire books that were just awful. LOL

But, terrible as they were, they were lessons because overall,I was still moving in the right direction as a writer, I just had a lot to learn before I could do it right. Which, I hope I have done, recently -- interestingly, the same paranormal themes from those terrible books came back to me 3 years later, and have resulted in one book that will be out with Blaze next March, and one that is being shopped by my agent at the moment. I was able to get better at it over time because at least I was moving in the right direction in the first place. That's how I have been thinking of it, anyway -- in some sense, it took me almost 3 years to write the book I am working on now (non-Harlequin), but that initial idea that inspired me never really went away.

Sam

Samantha Hunter said...

Of course, we're talking about writing process. That's always sticky, because what's right for one person is poison to another. Have to do what is right for you.

I think it's easier to say we need to keep the business side of things, etc from overcoming our creative life, but I think that's true of research, tough-mindedness, etc.

For instance, we make so much of discipline. Although I have a lot of work going and I always make my deadlines, etc, in many ways I am totally undisciplined. I mostly can't force myself to do what I don't want to do (I am horrible at making dr appts...). I refuse to diet. I exercise, but only exercise that I like. ;)

So, writing is the same -- sometimes I have had to crack down and make myself sit and do it, but thankfully those are times that are very much in the minimum.

This is because in the last three years (I'll spare you the details), I had plenty of moments where it was miserable enough to want to quit -- and I did, a few times. Seriously. For a day or two.

What brought me back was being inspired by an idea, a feeling, or a spark that I HAD to follow. Discipline had nothing to do with it, believe me. I decided that if I was going to write, I was going to be happy doing it, because life is too short. I can also do other jobs that make me miserable and make more money -- so if I am going to write, I wanted to enjoy it. I got my sense of play, imagination, and inspiration back.

Somehow, on the heels of that decision, I seem to have more books coming out than I can keep up with. :)

Anyway, it's almost dinner time -- I have enjoyed this talk so much. I'll try to stop by again, but if I can't, I thank everyone for coming by and sharing their thoughts. :) I wish you all much, much inspiration. :)

Sam

Sam

Sun Singer said...

Years ago, my muse said, "Ace, if you think you can do it without me, give it your best shot."

I saw that as more of a truism than a warning, and often feel discouraged when people slam inspiration as passe, if not dangerous.

Thanks for keeping the magic alive.

Malcolm

Sisters-in-Sync said...

Sam,

Thanks so much for reminding us about inspiration. Too often I stifle my own inspiration for fear it will take me too far. I worry what others will think when I know I shouldn't. To date, some of my best scenes are the ones inspired by music. I hear a specific song in my head and somehow manage to work my characters through their scene based on a song. Others would never know it and I think that's the point. But those times, I didn't hold back. I didn't wonder if I was taking it too far. I just felt inspired and let that inspiration work it's magic. I had forgotten about that and I thank you for the reminder!

Barb writing as Elle J Rossi

Sheila Deeth said...

Ah, the meditation of writing. Sometimes it's putting words on the page that starts the inspiration flowing, and the words say something you never realized was there.

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Sia,

Where have you been? I had to go through old deleted e's to find you're addie...for some reason my link on my blog wouldn't connect me and I've been waiting for you to visit...so I could relink you.

How are you? You've got my private e addie..write me, girl! I've missed you and I'm wondering why you don't come around any more? Is everything alright?