Light My Fire

lightmyfireIt would be nice to know that creative people, whether working in the fields of art, film, dance, or even medical or technical research, wake each morning with a new inspiration bursting from their heads, propelling them to their métier. I’d like to believe that. A good night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast, and off to paint, direct, twirl, or find the wonder cure to ills and ailments.

No one past the age of six believes that absurdity. Even little kids know how tough it is to come up with a marketable, er, gradable project. All the skills-building lessons struggled with in first grade, and by the time that six-year-old is promoted to second grade, he knows that it’s going to be another long year of practicing the same exercises over and over, trying to get it right. Whatever was mastered in first grade is just not good enough for second, and the kids know it when the first homework assignment in early September is posted the board. Practice addition facts. Practice for the spelling test. Read for 15 minutes. Bring lunch money. In other words, the lesson we all learned: it doesn’t come easy – pay your dues.

When I tell people I write, a few standard comments follow. “What have you written?” Nothing you would have read because I’m not yet published. “I always wanted to write a book.” So did I and then I did – three of them so far. “Where do you get your ideas?” From the supermarket, just like you. Maybe my thoughts are a bit smart-aleck, but my verbal remarks are polite because I love to talk about my books as much as I love to write them. On lucky days my fan club becomes a friend with common interests, and questions become a conversation.

I write because I always thought I would. It seemed a part of my personal constellation by the time I was six, a splatter of stars cast into my brain, earning me endless support from my teachers. “Sharon, stop daydreaming.” I wasn’t daydreaming – I was writing in my head. I could read better than most of the other kids, and my school stories were rich with adjectives and heroic characters. The little girls were prettier than me and bore names I envied – Tammy, Edwina. The little boys behaved more politely than the ones on our playground, even if they didn’t have as much fun. Their antics were resolved in a few paragraphs without adult intervention. (Who needed grownups? I always loved that unsupervised scenario.) Boring and pedantic as those early stories were, the books I read transported me to wild places and dangerous adventures. Eventually it registered that risk, temptation, suspense, and dicey events made for much more exciting escapades and were more likely to compel a reader to finish a story – or for my teacher to give me a better grade. Add a main character who didn’t act like an everyday super hero and a bad guy who did – even better.

That was good strategy for elementary through high school, but college courses proved I didn’t quite have what it took to be a real writer. The spark flickered more than burned, and I realized some writers had great story to tell but no gift for putting it to pen. Others made words flow like the Mississippi all the way to the delta but nothing happened along the way. Only a few had the chops to write a damn good story in a damn impressive style. I just wasn’t one of them – yet.

The little spark that keeps me up at night (and sleepy during the day) where do I find that wick? Lots of events trigger my creative impulses but the ones that incite my writing are problems that irritate me for months. They are “what if” questions that bug the hell out of me until I finally begin to think about how I might resolve their suggested conundrums. Other activities (revealing the perfect word, rewriting till my hands swell) will advance my efforts at continuing the writing process, but the initial work springs from something that niggles me to death.

Years ago I worked with an absolutely gorgeous, talented, and thoughtful woman. She’d just married a hunk, and seemed off to have a great life. She left the job, we lost contact, the last I’d heard she’d divorced the hunk because of his infidelity (What was he looking for?!) and she and the baby were struggling to survive. I wondered, why is it that a woman with so much talent and the kind of looks that pickled men, ends up with a cartload of sorrow? And if she can’t make it with all of her advantages, what the heck are the chances of an ordinary schlub like me?

I’d also chewed cud for many years on the idea of writing about a family during subsequent Passover seders. Every four or eight or 16 years, (four is a significant number at Passover) I would check in on them, see how the kids grew up, follow the old folks as they coped with dimming dreams, note how the new world affected everyone’s pursuits and beliefs. I also studied the Holocaust, a subject that harrowed me.

Eventually I faced a devastating employment situation that forced a major change in my life. Deeply distraught over circumstances I could not have foreseen nor changed had I known, I realized the only way out of my personal morass was to create something. My usual go-to creative process was to paint, but I’d been an artist and art teacher more than 25 years by then. It wasn’t going to bring me the relief or new direction I needed. So I turned to my childhood dream of writing Something Important. I combined the girl with everything and nothing, Passover, and the Holocaust into a book. Over two weeks I wrote 60 pages, most of which have remained intact. The result is a book called The Inlaid Table, and it worked its way to the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, General Fiction Quarterfinalists. I was thrilled, and I had a new enterprise to give my life purpose.

The book is not published though I haven’t given up. I’ve written two other books since then, also not yet published, and at least two more scribbled ideas are on computer queue. I slow sometimes, but the spark remains. I pay my dues. I keep writing. What lights your writing muse?

Be well, friends.

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