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On Inspiration

Inspiration is impossible to force. It seldom seems to strike when you expect it, and while this can at times be frustrating, it's also part of what makes writing so fun.

This lesson only really sank in for me as I was writing The Statue. Although this story has evolved multiple times over the years, it started all the way back in 2015, when I was taking a creative writing class as a senior in high school. I was required to submit one short story per week as part of the course, but finding inspiration was like pulling teeth. I spent more time than I'd care to admit in search of highbrow literary ideas, no doubt convinced on some level that I was going to write the Great American Novel. This was, of course, ridiculous, but the teenage ego is a powerful force.

At any rate, I came up empty every time I sat down to write. I usually ended up settling on a topic only after hours of brain damage and keyboard-bashing, unable to reconnect with that ever-elusive creative flow. The assignments turned out okay, but they were nothing groundbreaking, and certainly not anything I revisited later on.

The inspiration I needed came when I wasn't looking for it. I was sitting with my sister in the school library, still desperately searching for a plot that would make an impression on my classmates and teacher. I off-handedly mentioned my creative writing assignment, at which point she turned to me, looked me in the eye, and said (with a completely straight face), "You should write a story about an old lady who gets attacked by an evil knickknack."

It was ludicrous. I loved it. Seriously, Fiona, I owe you one.

When I sat down later to start my assignment, I embraced the idea—not because it was high-brow, but because it was so ridiculous that I had to write it just to see where it went. I had always been drawn to the bizarre, and the concept lent itself perfectly to a particular brand of comedy that I've always loved: dark, absurd, and just a smidge Lovecraftian. (I've spent years trying to figure out what this style of humor is called. Does it even have a name?)

The story almost seemed to tell itself, and as I spun the tragic tale of Mrs. Henrietta Higgins, I felt something I hadn't felt in ages: real, honest-to-goodness creativity. I was no longer writing to impress; I was writing to entertain—more specifically, to entertain myself. This is what inspiration looks like. I wanted to follow this plot because it was fun, and that made all the difference. My classmates ended up voting it Story of the Week, and that was when I realized that maybe being high-brow wasn't as important as I thought.

The moral of this experience was a simple one, but it's stuck with me ever since: Write what makes you happy. Seriously. Don't pressure yourself to create something that doesn't bring you joy. When you stumble upon an idea that really lights you up, run with it. You won't be sorry.

Until next time,

The Born Storyteller

You can read The Statue here.

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