Vincent van Gogh
In celebration of the New Year, and its attendant air of possibility, Seven Bridge Writers’ Collaborative will be hosting its January workshop with a look at inspiration; where it comes from and how we hold on to it.
Writing is a mysterious process. What sparks our imaginations? How do we optimize creativity? And how do we energize our work and ourselves as writers? Robert Frost once said, “Anybody can get into a poem; it takes a poet to get out of one.” How do you get into a poem or story? What keeps you there? And how do you find your way out again?
There appear to be two camps; those that believe that good writing is a well of inspiration, and those, like E.B. White, who say that writing “... is mainly work, like a mechanic’s job.” For myself, I would say that the division is a false one. Like all the arts, writing is a complex, generative response to being in the world; life itself provides the ingredients, the writer makes the soup.
The word inspiration comes from the Latin, inspirare, to breathe, a useful metaphor for the creative process. As artists we take in; we observe, grasp, savor and smell. And we put out; we imagine, and devise, and construct. Writing, like respiration, transforms one element into another; the poem, the short story, the novel are master metaphors, translations of life and experience.
Originally, to be inspired, was to be inspirited, that is, to be filled with the spirit of God, to be renewed and enlightened. It is not so far from the classical idea of The Muses, the nine goddess of inspiration, personifications of the human drive for knowledge and artistic expression. As working writers is it comforting to imagine our ideas as somehow outside ourselves, as something found, like a shiny penny, something we can perhaps entice or even control. Insights and ideas are, after all, malleable things, capricious and unreliable. It’s no wonder we attribute human qualities to the artistic process.
The truth of the matter is that, though we cannot always control, or even recognize inspiration when it strikes, we can optimize our receptivity and work habits. Saturday, January 17th, as part of our Living The Writer’s Life series, we will look at some of the ways writers invite inspiration, how ritual and structure enhance creativity, and how finding our true passions does much of the work for us.
As Van Gogh said, “Whoever loves much, performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.” Perhaps the truest route to inspired work is simply that; to love what we do, and to do it as much as we can.
Hollis Shore is a co-founder of the Seven Bridge Writer's Collaborative, and graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults program. She was the 2012-13 Boston Public Library Children's Writer in Residence, and a winner of the PEN New England Discovery Award for her novel, The Curve of The World, out for submission shortly. Contact her at Hollisplus@gmail.com.