(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)
One of the highlights of my time at this summer’s SCBWI conference was finally getting to meet the effortlessly amusing Mike Jung in the flesh. Now I’ve roped him into sharing some of his inspirations with us. What inspires Mike? I’ve often wondered, and now we’re about to find out:
I’m having an interesting reaction to the idea of inspiration, largely because of my current life circumstances. Now that my career as a professional children’s novelist is in full forward motion, my schedule feels more hectic than it ever has before. This is a good thing, of course—the things keeping me busy are all things that I want—but it almost makes me disregard the concept of inspiration. Often the thing I seek more consciously is motivation of the “park your hindquarters in that chair and do some work” variety.
That really won’t do, though, because inspiration is a vital part of any creative endeavor. It’s one of those intangible forces that separates a career in fiction writing from, say, a career in payroll management. Not that payroll management is unimportant, but it’s not intuitive, fantastical, even magical in the same way as writing. There’s a kind of psychological alchemy that happens during the writing process, and we need to stoke the flames to make it happen.
I think there are two kinds of inspiration, however. There’s plenty of overlap—how many facets of the writerly life don’t overlap with each other?—but I’ve come up with a couple of defined categories in my usual OCD way.
There’s what I think of as subject matter inspiration, the stuff that inspires us to write about certain topics, include specific details, build our stories around intriguing happenings, or develop characters that walk and talk and breathe in particular ways. As Bryan Bliss so eloquently stated in his post, this kind of inspiration is all around. If you’re psychologically wide awake and fully engaged with the world you will see a constant stream of story elements that are ripe for the picking, and I’ve been engaged in the creative life long enough to know how to do that.
Then there’s the other kind, which brings me back to my initial crotchety paragraph about motivation—the stuff that infuses us with new creative energy, and replenishes our supplies of determination and drive. It’s the kind of inspiration that makes us realize anew that we love what we do, and that it’s worth making the effort to fight through all of the maddening challenges presented by this crazy writerly life. I need to chug down a big fizzy bottle of this non-specific creative energy once in a while, if only because writing can just be so damned hard! And those infusions of high-octane fervor are harder for me to find within the flow of everyday life.
They’re not impossible to find, of course, and one of the many, many great things about having a book deal in hand is the plethora of inspirational moments that come along with it. An advance check clearly has a built-in charge of positive vibes, for example, as does an editorial letter. But those moments are relatively few and far between. There are other moments that provide that jolt of forward momentum, though, and they come from what’s probably an obvious source: they come from people.
That’s a revelatory statement coming from a misanthropic crank like myself—there’s a reason I’m a writer and not, say, a talk-show host—but there’s a staggering amount of positive energy in the thoughts, feelings, and accomplishments of the kidlit community. Maureen Johnson’s Internet manifesto is one of my favorite things ever, for example. Francisco X. Stork’s blog is a reliable source of soulful, articulate wisdom. And few people discuss the psychological complexities of writing with the eloquence of Kathleen Duey.
Yes, it’s tempting to fall into the Internet rabbit hole, but even a reclusive homunculus like me needs to attach alligator clips to the bolts in my neck and take a lightning bolt directly to the brain once in a while. The place where I’ve been struck by that kind of lightning the most is the SCBWI summer conference. It’s where I got my first request for a full manuscript. It’s where I met my editor, before he was my editor (but only just before). It’s where I first met Nova!
Very good things have come out of that conference for me, and the white-hot feeling of “inspiration with a capital I” isn’t the least of them. People have their own lightning bolt contexts, of course. Some thrive on residencies, and others put a tiger in their tank at private retreats. I have sky-high hopes for the Erin Murphy Literary Agency’s client retreat, which I’ll attend for the first time next summer. Still others need the more frequent and focused interactions of a weekly critique group.
The common denominator is people, though. The peeps are vitally important, despite the intensely solitary nature of the writing process. Because of it, in fact. Here’s to you, people of the world! I know it’s hard to tell just because I’m such a freaking weirdo sometimes, but you inspire the hell out of me, and I love you for it.
Mike Jung’s debut novel Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities will be published by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic in fall 2012. He pretends to run his own personal blog, does some actual blogging for EMU’s Debuts, spends far too much time goofing around on Facebook, and runs an imaginary Twitter empire.