The great Nineteenth Century French novelist, Balzac (1799-1850), once wrote, “It is as easy to dream a book as it is hard to write one.”
Breathes there a reader who has not thought, “that IDEA would make for a great novel”? Indeed, if there were as many books as ideas for books, there would not be libraries enough. Or readers.
Which brings one to the word “inspiration.” It is something that good (and even bad) writers are believed to have. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have been asked, “What inspired you to write…?” It is as if inspiration is some magical moment, the finger of God, if you will, touching the hand of the writer, even as my pointer finger searches the keyboard for the letter “e.”
The more prosaic meaning of inspiration has much more to do with giving breath to an idea, animating an idea, making an idea very much more than an idea.
I think such thoughts as I start on a new novel. It was SO clear in my head before I wrote a word. Now that I have written that word, plus a few more, I find myself rewriting those words truly countless times, trying to give them life.
But, at least for me, that rewriting is what gives my work some sense of life. I discover the meaning of my words, my story, only when the words are there to tell me their meaning. It is very much what I recall when my kids started to walk. I would hold them up as they took those first wobbly steps—how they did grin! But when I let go, they plopped down on their butts. Happily, they did not have far to go. Up again—hand in hand—finger in finger—and more steps. But when they do master the skill, it is you that has to run after them, and keep them, as it were, going.
The beginning of a book is all that rickety forward movement of little steps. But then, when the prose gains stability, has legs, you must run after what you have wrought.
Likewise, before my first son was born I was entranced with the notion that I would finally know one person in their entirety. I would know their moods, desires, attitudes completely. Everything. That presumption lasted, at most, for a week, or ten days. Then I had to struggle hard to understand what this cry, that cry meant. Hunger? Tiredness? Is it, like my first drafts, just gas?
Thus, it is, when a character in a book gets going. What is he/she thinking when that happens? How can I show that thought? Bringing life to a novel, to a character, is what writing is all about. But it’s really not the writing: It’s all in the thinking.
Inspiration is easy. It’s the perspiration that’s hard.
I need to learn that every time I start writing something new.