March 16, 2007

Sunday Scribblings - Inspiration

The prerequisite for inspiration is trust. Accepting inspiration is like looking out over a frozen lake and deciding to step out onto it. Sometimes I can feel it coming, like the flip side of a migraine.... "I feel a poem coming on." Those are really great days.

I once went to a fantastic reading by William Stafford – one of my favorite poets – and during the Q&A afterwards someone asked him what he did about writer's block.

He paused for a moment, and then said, "I lower my standards."

The entire room erupted into laughter, and he smiled along with us, but then said, "I'm quite serious. If I can't write a poem I really love, I try to write one I like. If I can't write a poem I like, I try to write a great line. If I can't come up with a great line, I think about words that I really love. And if I can't even manage that, I try to write a really amazing shopping list."

This attitude, coupled with Anne Lamott's advice about the need to give yourself permission to write "shitty first drafts," is an important underpinning of my life as a writer.

Because I believe that you have to be prepared (I was a Girl Scout, after all), I try to write every day. Whether inspired or not.

But inspiration does exist in my life, and for that I am deeply grateful. I am inspired by the natural world (which for me includes gratitude for God's bounty). I am inspired by other artists and activists. I am inspired by other people's journeys and by my own journeys as a parent and life partner. I am inspired by the people I love.

The most inspired writing I've done this year was in response to a direct request from my niece, T, who asked me could I please write her a story about "a tomboy witch." And although I don't naturally gravitate towards fiction, the energy that started to form up around that "commission" was an incredibly powerful engine; I literally couldn't keep from working on it. That intensity of engagement, that feeling of "flow," is what characterizes inspiration for me.

And what I've discovered, through this blog, is that the imagined presence of a waiting audience (that's you, folks!) seems to increase the odds that I will feel inspired at any given moment. So yes, I write for myself. But at the same time I write in community. Thank you for being here. Even those of you who are purely imaginary.

(Thanks as always to the women of
Sunday Scribblings
for their continuing inspiration.)


GoGo said...

very nice post.

I love the stages of trying to write and have find myself on a number of occassions writing one hell of a grocery list.

I too appreciate blogville for the idea of someone reading, it also makes me work harder at not being so lazy with my words.

An inspirational post.

megnificent! said...

I liked what you shared about the inspiration of your fav writers/poets.

It is amazing how kids can remind us of "what lies within" us!

Maybe you should post the story about the tomboy witch????

Shelley said...

Thanks for being so much more than imaginary, gogo!

And meg, if you send me your snailmail address (shelleyq (at), I'll send you a hardcopy of "Tanali and the Silver Scissors,"... much as I love cyberspace, this particular story wants to live on paper.

sognatrice said...

This is wonderful. I posted on my blog today about struggling through writing--and I hadn't seen the Sunday Scribblings prompt yet. Now I have to be inspired...gasp...again?!

Stacy said...

A lovely post and I especially like the idea of just trying to do what you can on a given day. The power is sometimes in the doing.

Autrice DelDrago said...

Accepting inspiration is like looking out over a frozen lake and deciding to step out onto it.

Profound and inspiring in of itself - well said!

chiefbiscuit said...

This is inspirational all by its little self! Thank you.

SarahJane said...

great post, shelley.
like your point about trust, and the anecdote on stafford.
i'm going to lower my standards today, thanks to you.

Regina Clare Jane said...

What a wonderful post... I loved the story about Stafford- he's amazing- and inspirational! Certainly fits how I felt today about the prompt!

gautami tripathy said...

One of the best post. I think there is some valid point in lowering our standards. I have tried to put my best and ended up not writing at all.

Thanks for this thinking post..


sara jane said...

This is why I love William Stafford so. It's freeing to be able to write the worst garbage in the world, too, isn't it? I find that mostly what keeps me from ever sitting down to write some days is that choking fear of being less-than-perfect.

Forget a perfect poem. If only I could write one true sentence. One perfect word.

Wouldn't that be bliss?

Britt-Arnhild said...

I really like your thoughts and writing....and that you admit that you write for yourself first of all :-)

Patty said...

I'm with you on the trust. Wonderful post all around. And that's not some imaginary friend whispering in your ear.

Anonymous said...

Well written! It is nice to read what inspires others.

Science Projects for Kids

Kimberley McGill said...

"The prerequisite for inspiration is trust" --- I haven't ever articulated it like this -- You are so right! I have to trust my own ability to move from that moment of inspiration into creating something (even if it a "really amazing shopping list" :)
I also write everydday for 2 hours - sometimes its pure nonsense- but I have to get through the nonsense to find the gems.

boliyou said...

I like that you mesh effort with inspiration. Like the recipe for success: 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

Wenda said...

I'm happy to count myself as one of your new audience. And I am real -- or at least I pretend to be.