Inspiration vs. Depression

26 Feb

Today was an awesome day because for the second year in a row, I had the privilege of attending the Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference.  This year’s conference included special guests Chris Raschka and Alison McGhee.

Every time I am in the presence of authors that I admire so greatly, I am overcome with a veritable gamut of emotions.  First joy and sheer exhilaration, followed by desperate longing and insane jealousy, and usually concluding with inspiration and hope.  Both Chris and Alison today were especially inspiring because they, professional published authors that they are, confirmed what I’ve always known deep down in my soul: writing is not easy.

As a writer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sense that if you’re really as creative and talented as you think you are (and let’s be honest, I think I am), it should be easier.  Words should flow out of your brain and onto your paper screen as though they are sent to you by God herself.  Writers like Stephenie Meyer (who got her billion-dollar idea from a bloody dream of all places) only help to perpetuate this myth.  The same goes for writing gimics like NaNoWriMo.  “Hey, even though I’ve never expressed interest in writing before AT ALL, I’m going to go ahead and knock a novel out this month…”  Yeah.  Because it’s that easy.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that the only good writing is that which is labored over intensively for years on end.  I love me some Edward Cullen like the rest of them, and don’t even get me started on the gem that is Water for Elephants (a product of NaNoWriMo).  I’m just saying that it’s hard not to get caught up in that kind of hype.  It’s hard not to be convinced that I suck for taking so long and for struggling with something I’m supposedly good at.

The best thing that happened at the conference today was that both Chris and Alison shared stories of how they struggle with their writing.  They work and they erase and they rip papers to shreds and then they tape them back together again seconds later (figuratively, of course.  Neither of them actually said anything about ripping or taping paper.).  Alison did, however, tell a story of how her amazingly beautiful book Someday took her five years to write.  It’s 252 words long.  That’s about one word a week.  That’s beautiful.  That’s honest.  And that’s writing.

As both Chris and Alison spoke today, I jotted down a few quotes that I found to be deliciously truthful about the love/hate relationship a writer can often have with his/her work.

“Art is long days of doing this… Talking to yourself, quietly, and then getting depressed.”
–  Chris Raschka

“It was like roadkill that you aren’t sure is dead, but you can’t move on in life until you know for sure.”
–  Alison McGhee

“…My great problem as a writer, which is that I’m plot free.”
–  Alison McGhee (after telling a story of how she got laughed at for suggesting ‘albino squirrel’ as a plot line for a friend’s book)

“…Days starting with hope and ending with ‘you are such a loser!'”
–  Alison McGhee

These quotes hit very close to home for me.  They pretty much sum up how I feel every time I sit down to look at and work on my writing.  It’s comforting and reassuring to know that two of the industry’s greatest feel the same way.

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4 Responses to “Inspiration vs. Depression”

  1. Ali February 27, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    So cool! Thanks for sharing those quotes! They’re very reassuring.

    While Meyer did get the inspiration for Twilight in a dream, she didn’t dream-write. I think that she must’ve struggled with the HOW of writing, too. Sometimes, I get inspired while I’m doing the dishes. Or chasing the dog around. Or in that weird, hazy moment right before sleep. Inspiration’s one thing, I think. Putting it into practice requires work. Anyone who claims writing a novel is easy (like those who do NaNo just to say they’ve written a novel) should be flogged with the Oxford English Dictionary. (They can borrow Rory Gilmore’s.)

    Also, Water for Elephants is an excellent example of a NaNo success story. However, it’s important to realize that the editing/revising process of that novel didn’t take place during NaNo. If the author had simply submitted that Zero Draft (the first rough draft), the outcome would’ve likely been very different.

    Great post, Andrea. Very thought-provoking. 🙂

    • Andrea February 27, 2011 at 10:22 am #

      Touche on both accounts mon amie. I, too, often find inspiration in the strangest and most random places. I think the Stephenie Meyer story still grates on me though because of how quickly she was able to knock those books out. I read an interview with her once where she talks about how she would just write all night, every night, until the book was done. I don’t have the stamina to write that way.

      • Ali February 27, 2011 at 11:52 am #

        I think that she also had an advantage in that she could afford to do that. Yes, she did have a family — but her kids were in school (I believe), and she wasn’t in school. Plus, I don’t think she had a day job (if I’m remembering correctly). So, her ability to write that much, that quickly was probably a combination of opportunity and drive.

        For the record, I don’t have that kind of stamina, either. Ah, us poor mortal folk. *grin*

  2. Bridget March 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    In defense of NaNoWriMo, which I have never completed, there’s a HUGE stress at the beginning about setting word quotas for yourself, setting a lot of focus on writing and letting other things fall by the wayside, and being incredibly disciplined. They know it’s not easy, they stress that, and that you’ll end up with something rough and crappy at the end of the month but the important part is to end up with SOMETHING after 30 days.

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