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Making Inspiration Work

It probably won't surprise you to hear that inspiration does show her face every hour I write.

Chances are that if you teach, build houses or paint portraits, you've noticed that inspiration is a pleasant visitor and not a lingering occupant.

But while inspiration is often unpredictable and fleeting, there are ways to keep it before you when your task starts demanding too much, leading you uphill or not promising an end in sight.

When Inspiration Visits

Before I started writing my novel, "Swiftwater," I was inspired by the plot that was coming together in my mind. I knew there were stories hidden around the bends of the coal mining town of Roslyn, Washington. With so many of the buildings still bearing their original western fronts, I could ascertain what the town felt like generations before my time. In sitting down with a town historian and hearing his recounting of a tale of a murder plan gone awry, I practically felt that inspiration was falling from the sky. What if I borrowed a page from my husband's family history in the telephone industry and made a switchboard operator my protagonist, the one who is privy to the town's emerging secrets? The plot was shaping itself for me, or so it seemed.

Maintaining Inspiration Through Interruptions

While the first draft of "Swiftwater" was easier to write than some of my other works, I found myself drawing on the original inspiration-an intriguing plotline, nuanced characters, a fascinating era-when the going got tough. Words don't come as easily when you are easily distracted with two young children, mounting household chores, invites from friends that you hate to say "no" to, and side story lines you didn't expect to arise. I'd be dishonest if I told you there weren't times when I thought about shoving this novel in a drawer and biding farewell to the inspiration that first came knocking. There were even times I got upset with that initial inspiration, thinking it overpromised and under-delivered.

Returning to that Inspiration

That's when the artist, builder, writer must tap into why they create in the first place and seek out at least a spark of that original inspiration. I liken this phase to "returning to the tried and true." If you know that visiting a particular restaurant stirs up the emotions you felt when falling for your significant other, why wouldn't you do this with your life's work too? If I want to heighten my chances of having a more productive writing day, I know my odds are better if I visit a local coffee shop and eliminate thoughts of that next load of laundry. I'll close my internet browsers and stop checking my phone. I'll listen to music that moves me (this novel was written with Florence Welch's vocals in the background many an afternoon). And if my words are locked up, I've written myself into a tangle or need clarity, I know to lace up my running shoes and hit the pavement. If running doesn't beckon that day, I might break away from my laptop to read another writer's words or engage in an activity with my kids.

Capturing New Inspiration

Perhaps you've found that inspiration is more accessible when you pause long enough to jot down that which you notice: snow-capped Mount Rainier, the gleeful sound of a child's voice, the far-reaching smile of a student who made the grade. Though I don' journal as much as I ought, I can tell you that the times I slow down enough to do so, I'm more prone to find inspiration's first light. Looking for the wonder in everyday surroundings also tilts the heart toward gratitude. There's q quote by writer Anton Chekhov that I've used with my own students: "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." These words wouldn't be penned if Chekhov hadn't stopped to drink life in.

Finding the Why

More important than summoning that spark of inspiration is identifying the "why." If you're compelled to teach a class, construct a house or tell a story, have you explored the reason for that? That's where you'll unearth your ability to "keep with it," to sustain the effort. For example: I tell stories not only to entertain and explore the human condition, but to show that every person has immeasurable value in God's eyes.

In turning to the page, I know that some readers won't identify with me, that some might think it's just a "fun," tale, but that others will find hope they haven't considered. In whatever you set out to accomplish, if nothing else, think of those whose lives you'll touch. The inspiration found in keeping others-focused is the sort that doesn't run out.

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