Friday, October 19, 2012

Inspiration or Perspiration


Every time I’ve entered a book store during the last year, I would immediately be drawn to one singular book. A gray cover of a singular tie, I would snatch up 50 Shades of Gray and look at the back before immediately remembering having done the exact same thing seven times before. Before I knew of the reputation of the novel, I would keep being intrigued by the cover and deterred by the summary. The sad part comes from the very good chance that if I ever committed to reading it, I have a decent idea that I would like it.

Why do I keep putting it down? One single word: “Intern.”

Something that is unique to me (meaning uncommon to the majority of your readers) is my distaste for the realistic modern America setting. I hardly can enjoy supernatural modern America. I have and can overcome this small distaste, but it has to have some other element to compensate.

The problem is not, of course, how it affects my reading, but my writing. Considering that this disinterest in anything, well, relatable, is not a popular thread of thought, it makes it more difficult for me to understand the appeal and therefore connect with them. All authors have this problem, of course (though not necessarily with this subject), which is why I bring it up.

The first issue comes from my foray into theatre. I feel inclined, and not entirely mistakenly, that critically respected theatre is the one that deals with small modern issues. If we look at most of the Pulitzer prize winners since the turn of the century, they mostly consist of mundane and dark family issues, whether it be Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman to David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole or anything Sam Sheppard’s ever written, despite how surreal things tend to get.

Now, though having a good reputation amongst the “intellectuals” is important to me, it is not a priority. I am not the sort of person to compromise myself just for success. In fact, I often tend to err on the stubborn side for very inane things. But when I would try to put my characters in this setting so dull to me, I didn’t perceive it as (for lack of a better term) selling-out. Being well versed is a goal of mine, and I don’t want to be limited.

So what would happen? Plays gave me the worst cases of tedium. I would form a concept that didn’t require a specific world and so, for whatever reasons, I’d decided that they lived a very normal modern life. And I couldn’t care less about any of it.

Writing can be a lot like drinking in that most of the experience is miserable. Whether it be having to gag down the taste in the beginning or the hangover afterwards, a drunk has about five minutes of fun (or what seems like) and six hours of discomfort. Writing while inspired, however, is that moment in between, right when the toxicity is such that everything in the world is happy. That moment of pure bliss where we drive through a scene, a chapter, or even an entire story is what we remember when we keep deciding to do it again.

My point being, of course, that if we can induce our own inspiration then we will be happier, and my problem of the setting is a good reason why we’re not inspired.

There are things that we like to read about that may or may not be true for others. For me personally, the best works are comedy in serious situations, romance in fantasy settings, and companionship in easily ignored plots. I like reading about writers, anthropomorphic cats, one-sided relationships, and happy endings. Here are the problems: Not what I like reading about is what other people like reading about, and to only write what I want to read would start creating a series of patterns that restricts me and is indicative of an unimaginative author.

However, I have consistently found that my attempts to write without considering my own personal tastes leads to abandoned projects, and the ones that I change to be more of what I would want to read has created some of my favorite works.

I find it fairly typical for authors to go through a self-rejection phase. When critiquing starting writers’ work, I have often heard them say, “I’m struggling with this character’s reactions, because I know she isn’t me and wouldn’t react like me.” We like to think that we’re unique and we have sort of an “us and them” mentality in which we don’t know how our readers will be different, so we will just assume that they’re different.

But writing shouldn’t be hard. Even if those whose goals are focused more around external rewards than internal, such as positive reception versus emotional release, won’t be hurting themselves by indulging themselves with their own preferences.

It can be tempting to err on the I’m special/I’m wrong side instead of acknowledging that there’s someone out there like me/there’s someone out there who agrees with me. Two human beings will always have similarities, despite their different backgrounds, personalities, and beliefs. It’s hard for me to understand why someone might love Death of a Salesman, and so for me to try to replicate that is harder than for me to try and replicate something I love. And not just because of knowledge, but because of passion.

Passion can be dull to people who don’t understand it, so it can be hard to commit to it. But it is important to remember that there are others who will be just as passionate, that not everyone will be interested in any subject chosen, and that if you have fun writing it is a thousand times more likely to be fun to be read.