ShortbreadStories: The Blog

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Shortbreaders Respond to Inspiration

/by Rachel Marsh, Jay Leffew, Diane Dickson, Katy Hulme and Maysam Kandej/

Several weeks back ShortbreadStories introduced the topic of ‘inspiration’ by launching our Shortbreader Inspiration series. So far David Appleby, Andy Bottomley and Kate Smart have given us blog posts on what inspires them to write. Additionally, in a Shortbread Writer I asked the authorial body of ShortbreadStories to send in your responses to ‘What inspires you to write?’

We received a number of varying and interesting responses. Jay Leffew argues that she’s not sure if inspiration is a blessing or a curse.’ She states, ‘I’m usually up and about by 6.00, so all my writing is done in the two or three hours before the day really begins.’ Jay’s inspiration seems to come in the form of a busy writing day: starting off with checking her emails and reading through ShortbreadStories’ new posts and works, then writing for her own blog, and next on to completing her writing exercises for two writing groups, where she always writes, ‘something original, as well as digging out works from published authors [as inspiration to her writing group assignments].’ Yet she continues to argue that she doesn’t always need the work of published authors as inspiration,  ‘a phrase, sometimes just one word will trigger me, and I don’t know how many times I’ve had something come to me whilst out and about on my Mobility Scooter.’ For Jay, this curse of inspiration, followed by a fluster of activity, seems to be a necessity of life, because she states, ‘ As long as I don’t fall asleep in the middle of things, I can’t seem to stop unless I focus on something else, like TV, or Spider Solitaire.’

Yet, for others inspiration is not urged on by activity, but is instead stilted by life. Diane Dickson wrote that with her children in boarding school, and her family in another country, she had a lot of spare time, and now – later in life – she wonders if ‘that’s where I went wrong, I should have written far more then.’ She goes on to argue ‘“then” was a long time ago, no home PCs, no internet and a mail system that was “interesting” both in time scales and censorship issues’, so she wrote her first novel in pencil and then pounded it out on a manual typewriter, and posted it off ‘in brown envelopes, and it returned in brown envelopes.’ In retrospect, she now can say, ‘it’s no good saying I should have done more then, I did what I could.’

This I find to be a wonderful attitude, you do what you can, especially because, as Diane argues, it may be ‘easier now.’ ‘One can write, edit, format and even publish sitting at a nice desk with a lovely view out of the window. But it is so very time consuming isn’t it?’ Yes, it is time consuming, and when speaking of inspiration it’s often time we’re speaking of.

Diane continues by talking about trying to balance inspiration and time when working a job that does not have the title ‘novelist’: ‘When I worked full time it was accepted that I would be out of the house from seven thirty in the morning and would be home around six thirty all being well and nobody minded. Now though I know, I just know that if I tried to put in that sort of day “just writing” it would be disapproved of. At the end of the day I think that you just have to do what you can, juggle and knit and try to keep everyone happy while still fulfilling the passion, but good grief it’s difficult and it doesn’t seem that it’ll get any easier any time soon.’

In Diane’s response, she talks about life getting in the way of writing, and she even commented that days of sunshine and travel do not make inspiration any easier, ‘When we are in France there is a large garden, barbecues, trips out and a husband. In UKthere are more trips and there is family and it is so very difficult to fit in writing.’

Katy Hulme of the Storytelling Nomad knows all about trying to write while travelling, about making each day a day of inspiration. In her blog post ‘I is for Inspiration’ she talks about those who went before her, her discoveries of these authors while travelling, and how they inspire her to keep writing.

Where as Maysam Kandej finds inspiration for writing extremely personal, and he writes to escape the pain of missing a loved one. He argues that, ‘For many, writing is a kind of fun. Something like going to the amusement park and having fun with friends, but for me, it’s all a war. A war between me, and of course again me. I’m not going to teach anything to anybody, because I still have a lot to learn. I’m not going to talk about my own sadness in my stories, anymore. But, I’m just going to be a free soul who can fly wherever he wants, and who can see the world through many other bewildered souls.’ He writes not to publish or for mass consumption, he writes to create worlds for those he’s lost.

He argues that while his inspiration may have roots in sadness, he is not sad. ‘You really don’t need to find some extraordinary inspirations somewhere far far away. Your inspirations can be your wife, husband, and lovely children, who may have been taken for granted. We might never learn that “The true story is here. It’s Beside me. It’s my dear spouse. It’s my dear children. And it’s my dear sunny day at home”.’ Maysam then added that the true story may not be ‘writing the Sunday newsletter for “Shortbread.”’ Touché dear Maysam.

Since Maysam has thrown the inspiration ball back into my court, so to speak, I shall take this moment to examine my own feelings about inspiration. I personally do not find the search for inspiration difficult, and I do not believe anyone has trouble instigating that moment of inspiration. How often do we see a scene playing out on a street, and think ‘That would make a wonderful story?’ It’s similar to the moment when something in the house doesn’t work, and we think of a tool or gadget that would make the world – or at least our households – a better place. We have all had these moments of inspiration.

What we do not do is act on those moments. That scene which would ‘make a great’ story never gets written and it floats away from our minds, forever to be lost. Some people will jot a note about that scene, swearing by their little black book that they will later come back to that idea and write the full story – but it never happens. This is same as that gadget which exists in our mind, never to be developed, until one day we’re watching ‘The Dragon’s Den’ and we think, ‘I thought of it first.’ But we never acted.

Notice I am using the royal ‘we’ (or to Americans, the managerial ‘we’), because I have not interviewed all the world on their habits of turning inspiration into action, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone in these fleeting moments of inspiration. They are everywhere. We have them several times a day, we simply do not turn them into action, and this is where I’d like to return to Jay.

She finds her ‘inspirations’ a curse, because she must act on them – even when she does not want to. She writes every day, and she studies the work of others who have written before. She does not let life get in the way of what inspiration could become. Should we all be as active as Jay, as prolific? Perhaps not, perhaps her flourish of activity does not suit us all. Perhaps, as stated by Diane, ‘you just have to do what you can’, and that will have to be enough.

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