Discipline Vs Inspiration; or, My Muse is Drunk and Stole the Inspiration Bus

The last year has been rough and the words have been scarce. I often say in my blog posts (the last of which was 327 days ago…so long that I forgot what it means to rant in the internet) that my life is no harder than anyone else’s, but I’m not sure that has been true over the last year.

To be fair, there have been highs and lows. The highs have been really fucking high, but the lows have been pretty abysmal.

There have been three profound events that have robbed me of my free time and killed my creativity.

First, I got separated and ended my marriage. It’s a long story which I might talk about publicly one day (as in, for the entire internet to see), but today is not that day. Suffice to say, it sucked. I believe it was the right call, but regardless of my belief it was one of the most difficult, emotional things I have ever done and there was not much room in my head to think about the stories I was going to write when the story of my life had taken such a new and dramatic direction.

Second, my mother was hospitalized with a deadly serious illness. To compound that little adventure, she had sold her town-house and then lost the purchase of her new condo because of her hospitalization. I had to find her housing, pack all her shit and move her into a new place while trying to ensure she was all right physically.

Finally, one of my oldest and dearest friends, my Godmother, Brenda, died of a very aggressive form of lung cancer. Her passing was so dramatic and so sudden that there was no time to prepare for it. In the beginning of July she went in to see her doctor with what she thought was a lung infection. The doc scanned her chest, found nothing worth worrying about and sent her home with a prescription for anti-biotics. Two weeks later when she felt worse despite the meds and bed rest, she went back for another chest scan. This time the doctor told her she had an inoperable mass on her lung and she was going to die. A week later she was gone. As the executor of her will I have been working on managing her estate, which is another story I might tell one day, but not today. Let me just say this: if anyone ever asks you to be an executor, tell them to fuck right off.

Along with these lows, I had some pretty dramatic highs, all of which consumed a lot of energy. I started a new relationship with a fantastic girl (yes, I got divorced and started a new relationship, go ahead and get your judgement on and draw your own conclusions, I don’t much care).

I also got promoted to sergeant and started a new job; I am now responsible for a team of about twenty people who police a large section of a metropolitan city. My job is a combination of social work, baby-sitting (“Uncle Ty! So-and-so said I was a poopy head!), urban warfare and an old hard-boiled detective novel (It was a dark and stormy night, and the body had been lying in a small, warm apartment for about three weeks). I love it, but it is taxing.

On another high note, my second novel, “Dark Resolution” was released by my publisher, Dark Dragon Publishing (www.darkdragonpublishing.com) And you know what? It’s a good book. It is by far the best thing I have ever written and I am proud of it. And it sold about fifty copies (I felt kind of like I built a really complex, beautiful paper airplane and threw it in the air expecting it to soar – instead it did a nose dive and crashed…and inexplicably caught on fire). With everything else going on in my existence I have done just this side of zero promotion for the story. I haven’t even put the goddamned thing up on my website.

All of this whining is to say, I wrote almost nothing all year. Between the end of October and the end of July I amassed about 7000 words; which amounts to not much more than a fucking fart in the wind when you’re a novelist.

I was actually at the point where I considered giving up writing; I talked about writing, I thought about writing, I told myself “you should write something, you lazy fuck” over and over again. But when I had free time, I used it to look at the Chive, or Twitter, or watch television – pretty much any activity that wasn’t sitting down at my computer and cranking some words out. I didn’t even blog (hence the fact that I have not posted anything for 327 days), and it’s rare indeed for me to not want to rant about something.

While I busy not writing, I kept saying to myself “I’ll write when I get inspired.” I had this vain belief that if I waited long enough, inspiration would fall upon me like creative rains from heaven and I would suddenly start producing words again. While I was waiting, I gave myself over completely to sloth and watched a lot of re-runs of “Yukon Gold” (I don’t know what it is, but I am obsessed with that show).

I did nothing. Nothing. And while I did nothing I convinced myself that I would one day start again. Then I did some more nothing.

On July 20th, I was tooling through my phone, busily doing nothing (maybe I was sitting on the toilet, I’m not sure), when I saw a tweet from Delilah S Dawson (https://twitter.com/delilahsdawson), inviting people to ask her “ungoogleable” questions about writing. I, of course, being an indolent fuck who was looking for another excuse to not write, asked what I needed to use to bribe my muse to get her to stop ignoring me.

In truth, I didn’t really expect an answer (I imagined that Delilah had actual sensible questions about writing that she would sooner answer). Second, if I did get an answer, I expected it to be something whimsical and indistinct. Something about pulling inspiration out of the ether, perhaps. Instead I got a concise, oddly helpful, response: I don’t believe in Muses. I believe in getting words down on paper, even if they suck.

I sat, and blinked, and stared at that almost immediate response for…well…a lot longer than I probably should have.

Delilah posted another tweet a few minutes later: If the bus is at the stop, you get on the bus. If you wait and the bus doesn’t come, you just start walking.

This, too, I stared at. For a long time.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that me sitting on my ass, doing a whole lot of nothing, was the equivalent of me waiting for transport that would never, ever come. The divine bus of inspiration was on another route and wouldn’t be stopping for me any time soon. My Muse, if there is such a thing, was on that bus, likely drunk, and had forgotten all about me. If I wanted to move, I would have to do it myself.

When I looked at the novel I was working on (in truth, I have five different novels, all with 10,000 or more words completed on them, languishing on my lap-top), it seemed like a big, hairy, intimidating bastard of a thing. Write 100,000 words? Are you insane? I can barely write a fucking note! So instead I decided to work on something shorter, something that wasn’t so intimidating.

I cast about for ideas, and ultimately settled on something that didn’t require much imagination; I told myself the story of my divorce. I have always processed things by writing about them, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t really reached my own closure over that particular event, because I hadn’t been able to write about it.

Over the course of about a week, I told myself the story, putting down just about 5000 words (which is almost as many as I had completed in the entire previous year). I didn’t share it with anyone except my girlfriend, Sayeh, as she is an integral part of the story. I might share it with the world at large, one day, but not today.

The telling of the story was not a matter of inspiration, it was a matter of discipline. I told myself that I had to work on it every day, even if it was only fifty words (to be fair it was a friend/coworker/fellow story-teller, Kristen, who said to aim for fifty words a day). If I approached the keyboard with the intention to do fifty words, it seemed like an easy pull. I could do that in a little less than a minute if I was clicking on even a few cylinders, and it took all the intimidation out of the task.

Fifty words usually turned into two or three hundred, and in a week I had a story. Once I had that story told, I felt, almost, like I remembered how to write. I took the momentum I had built up and started another short story, something I figured I’d be able to submit to the Surrey International Writer’s Conference writing contest.

I am currently on day 19 of writing every day. Sometimes it’s two hundred words, sometimes it’s a thousand. I don’t worry about how much I write, only that I produce words every day. I figure that I’ll keep working on the short pieces of fiction until the contest deadline (Sept 24th), and then turn my attention back to my current novel project (the third Quinn Sullivan story). The more I write, the more stories I tell, the less intimidating that novel length work seems.

Inspiration is a finite thing – sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t – but discipline is a thing that you can create yourself; it is a structure you can build with nothing more than your own will. Discipline is what will bring you to the page and help you put the words down while your Muse is drunk, and has driven your inspiration bus into a guard rail.

I hope your words are coming, and as always, thanks for reading.

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