I decided to ask my friends and followers on Twitter to set the writing related theme for today’s blog post. The original idea was to go with the first question, but within a minute or so I’d already received two questions on the subject of “inspiration”. Jacqui (@hopefulauthor) asked: “What inspired you to write?” whilst Cat (@carocat) added, “What has inspired you to write this week?”
Two questions I’m going to do my best to address in this post!
Inspiration is something writers talk about a great deal, and it possibly means slightly different things to different people. But for me, inspiration isn’t a single moment when a light bulb goes on or lightning strikes. It doesn’t come from “the ether”. It isn’t external and it isn’t sudden.
The need to write came to me quite early. Having never been able to walk — and even though I’d always had an active life with my wonderful parents, friends and family — I’d always relied upon my imagination. I was a typical kid, in that respect, but I think it’s fair to say that my storytelling skills no doubt started back then, when I played with my toys on the living room carpet in front of the television. As my reading skills developed, I occasionally read children’s novels and at the age of seven I started writing my first novel about a headless horseman. I don’t think it ever progressed beyond the first paragraph, but the dream was there, even then.
In my teens, I moved on to reading horror fiction — the Omen trilogy, Ray Russell’s Incubus and, of course, Stephen King. And in among these horror gems I inevitably discovered some real stinkers. You know the type. Killer crabs on the rampage, piranha fish with bad attitudes, that kind of thing. I read them and, with a sneer, dismissed them, already nurturing the vague and slightly arrogant notion that I could do better.
I didn’t start writing seriously, however, until I hit twenty. I’d had to leave sixth form college a few years earlier due to illness and, after trying my hand at painting, drawing etc, I decided that I would embark upon my first novel. I knew that it was something I could do when I felt able, and it struck me as the perfect occupation for someone in a wheelchair!
My first novel was, naturally, a horror novel about a telekinetic girl called Dawn — a complete rip-off of Carrie, it was utterly appalling! The first agent I sent the completed manuscript to (single spaced, calamity of calamities!) told me that I had “a lot to learn about the narrative form”. She was right. I knew it even then — but it didn’t dent my ambition in the least. It was, after all, my first novel, and as I started my second, still well aware that it wasn’t that good, I could nonetheless see an improvement.
I remembered the words of my then literary hero — King — and thought that, just maybe, he was right. No matter how little talent you have, if you read and write regularly you will improve. So, I kept writing and found that, even whilst I yearned for publication, that stopped being was it was about. Doorways opened. I found myself writing novels I never would have imagined myself capable of, quickly moving away from horror into more literary/mainstream realms, with the occasional experimental splurge.
As for what keeps me writing — what’s inspired me this week… well, having If I Never coming out later in the year has definitely spurred me on, but there’s more to it, I think, than that; I’m very aware that I’m now writing some of the best work I’ve ever produced. That sounds incredibly immodest, but I think it’s a really important that we can acknowledge our weaknesses and strengths. I’ve addressed many of the problems my writing had — one by one, year by year — and I now feel that the energy I take from knowing that I’m doing the job well is what keeps me going.
Writing is a tough job, but it’s immensely satisfying. Ultimately, this is where I now find my inspiration.