January 07, 2021

Write It! How to get started Chapter 3 Inspiration versus Perspiration


Writing tips and tricks: Chapter 3 Inspiration vs Perspiration

Let’s answer this question first: 

Q.: Should I wait for lightning to strike? In other words, how do I get started?

A: Don’t wait for inspiration. Writers work all the time and, when they’re lucky, the muse joins them. Part of that work is reading, good stuff and not-so-good stuff, and watching, yes, movies, anything and everything. 

The reason is that to write a good story, non-fiction or fiction, we need to understand the rules of narrative: How narrative that holds the reader or watcher works its magic—with this key caveat:

If there are 12 rules, the 13th rule is “Break all the rules,” but you can’t break a rule until you know the rule. 

Here’s how we’ll work together: We’ll read and we’ll watch (yes, movies and TV). The key is this: You gotta learn to read and watch as a writer—always analyzing and creating. 

But in what order? And what do I mean by analyzing?

First we need to begin to understand how creativity works and how that part of our process differs from analysis.

What I’m not going to do: I'm not going to mess with your process of invention. 

I am not going to tell you: Here’s the toolbox: Use it and you’ll be a great writer. 

Anyone who tells you this is lying. Did you hear me LYING, as Hitch says in the rom-com by the same name. 

See the YouTube trailer accompanying this chapter. 

And watch the movie: The writing is good and I’ll talk about why it’s good in a next chapter or through the Zoom classes I am holding via Meetup.com. Search for me there at the Beverly Hills Creative Writing Group or Write It! How to get started. You don't have to live in California to take these Zoom classes that occur once a month on Wednesdays at 6:30 pm PT.

Those tool-box-how-to books may be able to tell you how to write formula stuff, whether it be the bodice buster or the formula mystery—and they may be able to help you with some basic craft issues. 

Let me assure you that great romance novels and great mysteries or memoirs, as examples, do NOT work with pre-determined formulas. We’ll be naming the great ones in future chapters or classes. 

If you want to write original, inspiring stuff that sings off the page, read on.

Here’s my hope: Once I help you see the craft in a writer’s or filmmaker’s work, you’ll never be able to read a story or watch a film the same way again. 

What you need to do to understand inspiration: 

One simple exercise, a lesson I learned from the writer David Jauss.* 

Here it is:

1. On a piece of paper in long hand, write your name.

2. Now, write an alias.

Got that done?

Here’s what you just now learned: In that beat, that moment of dropping away into your unconscious mind to write the alias—after all, you know your name—you found the place where the invention happens. 

It’s as simple as that.

Rule # 1: Never mess with that. That place is where your voice, your story, your inspiration come from—and it’s a mysterious world that no workshop, no mentor, no teacher should ever mess with. 

That’s where the muse will find you. That’s where the discovery lies.

But we need to read and watch films and TV shows with a writer’s eye. 

What I’m going to help you to do is show you how to see how great stuff becomes GREAT stuff.

I'll show you how to read a story like a writer, watch a great movie like a writer, enjoy a terrific episode of a TV series like a writer.

But here’s the key: Don’t let analysis of your writing interfere with its invention.

Once you learn what I show you how to do by analyzing something great—coming in the following chapters (In Chapter 4 we’ll re-watch the flick Hitch; see the assignment at the end of this chapter.) like a writer—you’ll learn how to teach yourself through the analysis. 

That brings me to rule #2.

Rule # 2: Learn how to forget. 

Here’s what I mean: You should never ever go back to the studying we do (except when you’re editing). 

Why? You won’t need to remember. The reason is that what you learn as we work together is now somewhere in your unconscious mind. You know, already!

When you’re inventing, you need to forget. You need to write without thinking. 

Edit later. Let me say it again: Editing is always a secondary task.

The free write we did in Chapter 2 “On Going Home” was one of our first experiments to help you teach your unconscious mind to invent, to discover and to do this better and more often—without analysis or judgement.

Rule # 3: Never wait for inspiration. 

Write, write, write. The inspiration will find you. 

I promise you it will—as long as you remember to FORGET

Writers who worry about the rules sit in judgment of themselves like the evil stepmother from Cinderella. 

The critic never lets the princess go to the ball. 

Kill all the critics! We hate them.

Here’s a thought: I love the 1977 movie Annie Hall. Marshall Brickman who co-wrote the screenplay with Woody Allen said in an interview, 

“I have learned one thing. As Woody says, ‘Showing up is 80 percent of life.’” He added and I commiserate big time: “Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed. I’ve done both.” 

So show up to that blank page and get some sleep. We’ll talk more about sleeping to invent soon!

Here’s an example from my novel Who by Fire

You can listen to me reading it via audible.com—and, as I said in Chapter One, I learned bunches when I did this in an NPR Studio.

I once went to a barn-burning run by the fire department in rural Iowa and I journaled about it. Remember, I told you to save everything and to start a journal if you haven’t already. 

I don’t mean a diary and we’ll talk more about this, too. 

Here’s is what ended up in Chapter one of my novel Who by Fire—and, yes, I surprised myself. That aspect of “surprise” turns out to be a key part of the process of invention. We'll talk more about this, too, soon!

I would have told Lena about the fire I saw in Iowa, but it is regret that writes this, that longs for said things unsaid.

This fire would have amazed her. The heat was so incredibly hot it reminded me of something I learned in physics: the fact that the air around a lightning bolt is hotter than the surface of the sun. 

It was a barn burning—not with any political or racial overtones, but a necessary burn of an old wooden grain bin in the center of town in Whiting, Iowa, where I grew up. She was a Baltimore-grown city girl who wouldn’t be able to imagine this story of the burning though I suppose it’s a common enough event in rural parts of our country.

That I know something Lena couldn’t imagine amazes me.

I go home to Iowa—rarely—and, as it turns out, after Lena died, fortuitously: the controlled fire.

Assignment, or “Your mission should you choose to accept it” is to watch the rom-com flick Hitch starring the fabulous Will Smith.

Questions? Weigh in now. Answers will appear briefly here in comments—and, more fully, as chapters—or in my Zoom Meetup.com classes.

The floor is always open.

Note: Questions and comments welcome. A PayPal button (top right), if you like what you've read, any donation would help. 

Also: Do note, if you are on Safari, to comment, you must go to 1. Safari preferences: See the drop-down menu in up left corner under "Safari". Then 2. go to Privacy and 3. uncheck "cross-tracking". You can now easily comment and can turn cross-tracking back on after you comment. 

Or, use Chrome to comment or ask me a question. Helps to sign into Google or Chrome first so that I know who you are! 

If you want one-on-one help, I offer, for a small  fee, via Zoom, a compressed SEVEN-session course with slides and more experiments than in these chapters I am giving away for free. 

email me at mltabor@me.com

I taught variations of this course at George Washington University, in the undergraduate and graduate MFA/Ph.D. creative writing program at the University of Missouri and at the Smithsonian's Campus-on-the-Mall. For more about me, Click Here 

Chapter 4 coming soon ...

*Jauss, David. "Lever of Transcendence: Contradiction and the Physics of Creativity," The Writer's Chronicle, Vol. 38, #5, p. 4.
Photo: Fire by Daniel Pattullo on Pinterest
Image: Break the rules by taakoses on deviant art.com
Image: Space Shuttle Atlantis, liftoff, no attribution required.