Searching for inspiration is as useless as “searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.” Isn’t that what Alicia Silverstone’s character, Cher, said in the hit teen movie Clueless? No, not quite, but you get the idea. I am desperately trying to get into the habit of writing every single day, but as you can see, when you search for inspiration that is the time you are most likely not going to find any. Alas, here I sit, typing, breathing, stopping to take a look around my surroundings in hopes that—what? In hopes that I will be struck by a literary bolt of lighting catapulted by the same muse who inspired Rowling, da Vinci, or King? Will I look outside the floor-to-ceiling windows and find a story gliding along the cirrus clouds as they glide lazily along the robin’s egg sky? Or perhaps Icarus will swoop down from the heavens just before his wings melt in the sun in order to whisper the secret of creativity into my eager ear as his wings beat softly in the summer air. I think not.
“How vain it is to write, when you have not stood up to live.” Henry David Thoreau said that. How utterly true that statement is.
There are voices in my head that speak to me constantly, but unlike some other voices that perhaps only seek attention and want to make the evening news, my voices do not ask me to create pipe bombs in seedy basements, or take sledgehammers to innocent bystanders. No, my voices always seem to request the same thing … Tell my story. Please.
Sometimes there will only be one voice making this request and it is easy for me to handle. I can walk around the house, make myself a cup of tea, and listen intently as my character follows me around, making sure I’m seeing their story exactly as they have lived it. However, on occasion, several more voices decide to join in the fun and suddenly I find myself with an entourage of characters all speaking at once (their manners come and go). The voices become one loud, long hum, the kind of white noise you hear when you’re sitting at a crowded and popular restaurant. You are able to catch bits and pieces of conversations but only if you train yourself to focus on one at a time. Even so, you end up missing vital pieces of information that are lost on that wave of white noise.
It is moments like these, when the characters become paparazzi, that I feel the most uninspired because ironically, I am too inspired. I lose focus. I miss too many bits and pieces of the story. I am overconfident, like Icarus when he tried to fly toward the sun and the result was his own death as his wings melted and he stumbled into the cold, unsympathetic sea. Everyone knows (or they should know) what having too much confidence does; it leads to arrogance, which then leads to blind pride. And we all know what happened to Narcissus …
When my characters clamor for my attention and the shutters of the camera lenses click endlessly like thousands of cicadas looking for a mate, I am blind with my own narcissism. As a result, I lose a grip on the stories being told to me and also end up losing credibility amongst my own characters.
No, you’re getting it wrong. They say.
That’s not what I said. Chimes in another.
Are you even listening to me? Yet one more voice adds impatiently.
The truth is that I’m not. I have blocked them out, one at a time and placed a sign on my office door that reads, “Gone Fishing.”
She doesn’t even fish. I hear one of them murmur.
But what good will it do me to hide under my desk like a frightened child who has received a poor grade and is now simply waiting for her parents to confront her? What I should have done, what I should do is this: Tell every one of my characters to stop, take a number, and wait their turn. Otherwise, their stories will be contorted into something odd and grotesque, their lives will be scrambled into a mess of falsehoods, and the inspiration will have dissipated as quickly as Alka-Seltzer in a cold glass of water. Do they really want that? I might be an okay writer, but I’ll be damned if I have a right to say I’m great. I’m not so brilliant that I can remember a dozen stories that are rolling around in my head. I’m not so talented that I can listen to a half a dozen voices and assure that I am listening to each and every one of them with ease and magnificent recollection. No, I’m just someone who likes to hear someone else’s story. I’m just someone who fell in love with words before she even know how to spell her own name.
That was Icarus’s downfall. He was searching for the inspiration in that great fiery globe in the sky and ignoring his father’s warnings, when all along, the inspiration and freedom were in his very own wings.