The Practice of Inspiration

A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898...

Professional artists, whatever their medium, say with good reason that ‘inspiration is for amateurs’. Deadlines, word counts, record companies or editors don’t care if you’re having a good week or not. They just need your product delivered when you promised it.

Nevertheless, even the most organized, disciplined artist (which excludes me!) needs and looks for inspiration to stimulate their process or refresh their brains. If a long-term goal is equivalent to reaching a mountain-top, and motivation is what keeps us on the trail, inspiration is the impulse that started us on the hike to begin with. It could have been something as simple wondering what the view from that particular peak looks like. It’s also the moment when an unexpected vista opens in front of us as we make our way upward. It’s something to savor and take a picture of. You catch your breath and rest, and then get back on your way. Inspiration makes you eager to see what you’ll discover next.

What refreshes you and gives that little zap of energy may not do a thing for your neighbor. Just check out all the different boards on Pinterest if you don’t believe me. What we love is as individual as we are. It could be visiting a botanical garden or window shopping at the local mall. The main thing is to find out what you love and take the time to indulge it. As long as you don’t wait for your Muse to drift down on a golden cloud and sprinkle fairy dust on your head before getting back to work, you should be fine. Maybe something wonderful that you can use right now will come to you. Maybe you’ll get a cool idea that you can’t use at the moment — make a note of it somehow so you don’t lose it. Or you might not see anything that really inspires you. That’s okay, you’ve still got your long-term goal to keep you on track.

One nice thing about looking for inspiration on a scheduled basis is that it opens your heart and mind. It can come from anywhere: spiritual readings, the rock you kept since you found it on the beach at age seven, a science journal. Like anything else, finding inspiration becomes easier with practice. And you find out what things inspire you for different tasks.

Lately, I’ve been looking at a lot of Georgian houses and listening to movie soundtracks. What gets your brain cells off and running? If you don’t know, take a few minutes and see what strikes your fancy!

Cross-Training for Writers

I was asked in an interview once what I’d write if I couldn’t write romance. I didn’t have to think twice; the answer is fantasy. As in Old Skool, Middle Earth, build-up-your-alternate-universe-from-the-Void fantasy. I devoured the works of Tolkien, C. J. Cherryh, Orson Scott Card, and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Isaac Asimov, among many others, years before I attempted writing a word of my own books. I loved the chance to escape into another world while I read those books. The best of the romances I gobbled up by the pageful provided the same effect. My entirely unscientific theory is that good writers care passionately about their own creations, whether it’s a planet or a pair of feuding lovers.

I write romance because I enjoy offering hope in the form of happy-ever-afters. I love writing smart heroines and the hunks they deserve. (And okay, this is the only genre that allows me to look at man candy and say with a straight face, “It’s research.”) But I do engage in a form of world-building. Mine is different from speculative fiction writing because I am constrained by the laws, customs, technologies and events of actual past eras. I can tweak the rules and bend them, but if I break them, the reader will be jerked right out of the story and might not be able get back into it.

Fantasy readers are familiar with maps, spaceship diagrams and/or genealogical charts in the front or back of books. I use those tools too, as do most other writers serious about their craft. Maps are a sticky issue for me. The posh area of London isn’t large now, and it was smaller in the 19th century. If we had to squeeze in every London mansion, gaming hell, bordello and alley devised by historical romance writers, the metropolis might have taken up as much space as it does in 2012. On the other hand, I do write fiction. It’s kind of my job to make stuff up. While scholars may howl if I place someone’s home where a tobacconist’s shop existed according to the census of EighteenWhatever, if I make the rest of the street historically accurate, and the furnishings and design of the house, most readers will be okay with that.

Along with hunting for man candy, I do research actual maps, and furnishings, and when people stopped using quills and started using pens, and the beginnings of railway travel in England. Most of the time, I enjoy research, but when I can’t find a crucial piece of information, I wish I could make up my own rules!

I do get to make up my own genealogy charts at least, and that’ s another part of writing prep I enjoy. Speculative writers have to come up with naming systems, and I don’t envy them the task. It’s hard enough to find the exact match of first, middle and last names that scans well and conveys the character’s status as hero or supporting character. Throwing in issues like spaceship allegiance or Elvish naming customs would make my brain explode. Genealogy tells us a lot about family culture and values, personal traits that may be encouraged or not and even diseases that can affect a character. Take a page from fantasy writers and make a family tree or two for your manuscript.

I learned about the importance of creating a historical background for one’s books from the Appendices at the end of The Lord of the Rings. They fascinated me; I would go back and forth from them to favorite passages. I realized that such a deep background gave Middle Earth its breath-taking vision. My history is based in fact, not speculation, but it’s crucial for writers to understand the places and times in which they place their stories. Timelines and calendars are an essential tool of all writers, either to track fictional events or intertwine fictional with real events.

So, writers and readers out there…what do you enjoy about your second favorite genres?

Memo to Justice Kennedy et al

U.S. Supreme Court building.
U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Even peace may be purchased at too high a price.
First, apologies to my readers for reversing my previously stated intention not to share political opinions. I have a hard enough time writing conflict for my characters, and opening myself to the possibility of attack by those who will not agree with me is the stuff of my personal nightmares. I don’t plan to indulge in other political rants, but the Supreme Court’s decision to allow strip searches for people arrested even for minor crimes really, really, really hit a nerve.

The issue was whether a jail’s blanket policy of strip searches for all suspects arrested is constitutional. Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and Thomas must believe that public safety always trumps personal privacy. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, that strip searches improperly “subject those arrested for minor offenses to serious invasions of their personal privacy.”

Okay, boys (the five Justices who voted in the majority were male) here are a few thoughts from a citizen. You know, one of the people you just said it’s okay to strip search without reasonable cause even if I’m arrested for a minor offense and am not under observation for criminal activity.

First, I am not anti-cop. Most law enforcement personnel are decent men and women whose goal is to make it to end of their shift alive. Too many of them don’t. In arrests involving drugs, weapons, or someone who is suspected of major crimes, strip searches on incarceration make sense. My problem is that the majority opinion in this case removes an important protection against unreasonable searches from those of us who habitually uphold the law.

Nor am I anti-nudity. I write highly sensual romances. My characters get naked. The point is, they get naked when they want to, unless they are being threatened by the bad guy. Rape in main-stream romance went out years ago, because like in real life, a good romance heroine knows when she’s being abused.

The choice to remove clothes is highly personal. When that choice is taken away and one is forced to strip, it is humiliating and degrading. In fact, before your collective brain fart on Monday, forcing someone to take their clothes off was considered a form of sexual harassment. Now, it it’s what? Our tax dollars at work?

I am decidedly anti-people-touching-or-looking-at-me-without-my-permission. I’ve been this way ever since my 8th grade science teacher pinched my ass in front of the entire class. Everyone else thought this was hysterically funny, but my first impulse (regrettably, one I didn’t give in to) was to break the jerk’s pointer across his face. Let’s just say I’m still mad.

The TSA’s policy of public gropage in the name of security is bad enough. It seriously squicks me out six ways from Sunday. I am going to have to fly somewhere eventually, but I dread strangers touching zones that should be reserved for my husband in the privacy of our home. I’d rather go through the pornoscanner. Or even strip down to my skivvies in line if it will keep people I don’t know from handling body  parts about which I am highly territorial.

It’s not that I’d feel any less humiliated, it’s simply a matter of which revolting experience gave me more control in the long run. Being forced to strip by someone carrying a weapon, even another female, makes my blood run cold. In the ‘someone is going to pay for this’ way. And that would be unfair to both parties in this scenario. I shouldn’t be forced to remove my clothes for something as trivial as a bench warrant or unpaid fine, and she shouldn’t have to force me to do so.

What’s next? Are we going to change the national anthem from ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ to ‘Bow chika bow bow’? Come on, Kennedy & Co. You are all judicial scholars and you can do better. The decision you handed down Monday is wrong, just as Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson were wrong.  Man up and fix it.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin