Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Reading for Inspiration


 Reading: What do you read to blow out the cobwebs and invigorate your inner writer? It happens to everyone at one time or another. Writer’s ennui. That listless feeling that nothing you write is good enough. It doesn’t have any depth. The writing doesn’t flow, and you wonder why you put yourself through the endless drudgery of putting one word after another down on the page, when in the end there’s nothing much to show for your effort. Blah.
Sometimes taking a few days off helps, or writing something new, or different, or going to an art museum or a concert, seeing a good movie. Something to spark your feeling of creativity. And sometimes plunging into certain authors will help. I’m not talking about writers who entertain or those whose books you read as soon as a new one comes out. I’m talking about the truly inspirational books. 

I sometimes find that books on writing inspire me. I’ll dip into Bird by Bird, Annie Lamott’s warmly encouraging book on writing. Or John Gardner’s classic, The Art of Fiction. Or sometimes I like to read snippets of writing advice from Alexandra Sokoloff, who started as a screen writing and has developed writing methodologies that she shares. And then there’s the more recent How to Write A Mystery from Mystery Writers of America, edited by Lee Child and Laurie R. King. It’s crammed full of writing advice from some of the best mystery authors writing today. And it inspires creativity. 

Sometimes it’s mainstream fiction I crave. When I am most in need of encouragement, I head to classics. Jane Austen inspires me with her wit and sly innuendo. Her plots may be formulaic, her characters standard, but her turn of phrase is genius. Every time I reread one of her books I discover little gifts of understanding that I didn’t notice the previous times I read it. A writer who particularly spurs me to pick up my pen (metaphorically speaking), is Truman Capote. His short stories are absolute gems. By the time I finish one of them, I’m itching to get back to writing. I’m not even sure why Capote’s writing so inspires me, but he’s one of those writers whose sentences often make me think, “I recognize this feeling; it’s one I’ve had many times, and yet never saw it described accurately before.” He has an ability to describe things in a room which make me certain I’ve been there. 
He describes characters in such a way that I know I’ve met them. 

For inspiration, there’s also a poet who makes me remember how much I love words, and what can be done with them. When I read Wallace Stevens “Ideas of Order at Key West,” it transports me to a place that I recognize in my bones. The poem is about the interdependence of imagination and reality—and isn’t that what writers struggle with every time they set out to write? 

There is something about this turning point in the poem that perfectly describes to me the attempt to make intimate the experience we have of the world: 

“Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know, 
Why, when the singing ended and we turned 
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights, 
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there, 
As the night descended, tilting in the air, 
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea…”
Until that point the poem has been philosophical and suddenly it becomes visceral. I could weep with reverence when I read it. When I open Stevens' Collected Poems, the book automatically falls open on it. I think the best writing tries to bridge the gap between what we think of the world, and what we experience in it. We do it through descriptions and dialogue and setting, and unless we are very lucky, it often falls short. That’s where reading “the best” comes to my aid, and that’s where my inspiration lies.


Brenda Chapman said...

A lovely post, Terry and inspiring in its own right.

Terry said...

Thank you, Brenda.