(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)
I absolutely love how Kathleen Duey talks about inspiration—what it is, and where it comes from. Dare I say it inspires me? It does. Here, let it inspire you, too:
It’s an interesting word with as many definitions as there are artists. It also has ancient roots. I stopped researching it because I was getting dizzy, but this much seems clear: The word “inspiration” comes from the Latin “inspirare” which meant both “to breathe in” and “to breathe upon”—causing the religious/scholarly debate that dizzied me. But “inspirare” also meant this: “to draw in a breath.”
That’s how inspiration has always felt to me. It’s unexpected, quick. It requires me to pull in that breath, to square-up my stance, ready myself to receive something precious, fleeting, meant for me, but ready to run past if I fail to receive it. It’s distinct—very different from getting a good idea. It isn’t like watching the bus driver who ate his sandwich, then pulled a rose out of the bag to tuck behind his ear. It’s different than talking to the young man wearing sand-colored camo in the Dallas airport, then walking away wondering if I could/should/would ever be capable of writing some part of his reality—because someone needed to. Inspiration, for me, isn’t simply the result of every artist’s endless noticing and cataloging of everything in the world.
We all build an imaginary back-lot where memories and scenery are stored, where extras from everywhere we have ever been await a chance to shine, and possible protagonists develop into people, some of whom will demand attention. Voices come to writers, sometimes in dreams, sometimes in the grocery store. So many stories need to be told and there are so many ways to tell them. Writer, painter, sculptor, musician, film maker, dancer, playwright, costumer, silversmith…all kinds of artists notice everything. We all distort reality, too, to make people stop, look, listen, discover something, laugh, cry, and perhaps quiet their own worries long enough to rest. All of that is a function of both art and craft, things that have absorbed thousands of my hours but still baffle me about half the time—and feel like my real family the other half.
Inspiration is different. It appears. Or at least that’s how it feels to me. It’s quick and strange and I have to chase it. It took a long time for me to get better at tackling it without bruising it, better at hearing it without interrupting it. Sometimes it brings me missing pieces of a story I set aside five years before. Sometimes it brings me a protagonist I seem to already know. Sometimes it drops off something so new and odd that I am pretty sure it missed a turn and came to the wrong house.
But no matter what inspiration brings, there is a silly, sweet afterglow during which I know I am a writer, a storyteller. Doubt is gone. Motivation feels like it will last forever. These are the moments when I am SURE I can write two amazing YA books in the coming year, that the sky is bluer than it has ever been. Delusional, sure, but so what? For me, the experience of inspiration supports and informs every other part of my job.
And it is my job.
The only one I ever wanted.
Kathleen Duey writes for early, middle grade, and YA/adult readers. She tries (very hard) to write books that matter.
Follow @kdueykduey on Twitter.
Want more in this blog series?
- Inspiring Novel Openings
- What Inspires Lisa Schroeder
- What Inspires Tara Altebrando
- What Inspires Bryan Bliss
- What Inspires Sara Zarr
- What Inspires Anna M. Evans
- What Inspires Christine Lee Zilka
- What Inspires Sophie Rosenblum
- What Inspires Mike Jung
- What Inspires Mike Martin
- What Inspires Veronica Roth
- What Inspires Laurel Snyder
- What Inspires Bennett Madison
- What Inspires Alexander Chee