In my early twenties, I began writing about a girl named Sunny in what I thought would be my first novel. I found my inspiration for her name (also to be the book title) from Frank Sinatra’s song by the same title. I loved that song. I listened to it in the car, in my house, and at work – on repeat. That first attempt at a novel floated along nostalgic and sorrowful chords about identity and the fumbling of girlish insecurities in a young woman’s world (though that’s not what the song is about at all). The fumbled attempt abruptly ended – sufficiently absorbed in its own melancholy – on the sunny day it first dawned on me that I had outgrown my own theme. That was when I realized writing a novel would require more than a few whimsical notes of an inspiring song.
Inspiration. What is inspiration if not the haunted song of nostalgia romancing reality with daydreamy lyrics about tomorrow? – And how that song haunts me! Be it music, a newspaper clipping, a painting, or an odd character latching tendrils of their charm into my brain at the local coffee shop – inspiration finds me – like the child always eager to play.
I believe that it behooves mankind to be in a constant state of learning and growth – so much as is possible – and so I spread my interests thin. Give me two hours of free time and I will spend one hour and forty-five minutes of it contemplating whether to work on my primary novel, work on my non-fiction, dabble with oil pastels, dust off my camera, check Facebook, read one of the six books I’m in the middle of, or clean the dishes in the sink. Oh, yes – I am inspired. I’m even focused (believe it or not). Only, my eyes are too big… just like the child. I eventually lost interest in that first novel because Sunny was but a thin disguise for my own lonely and nostalgic plight at the time. I learned that inspiration should be carefully chosen – the cost counted, as inspiration seems to shift and change within the seasons of my life. That first attempt taught me that I needed something bigger than myself to wrestle with on the page.
Nearly a decade later, I’ve been working on my new first novel for over two years. Actually, it began as a short story and as a dare to myself – to tackle a different style of writing than I had previously tried. But in the long-run, those reasons couldn’t keep me. In this process, I have learned that purpose and a sense of calling carries me through, grounding me on the days when my writing bedazzles me like the golden twinkle of Elven hair and lifting me on the days I’d rather suffer the defeat of another incomplete work and toss my body and pen into the fiery dragon’s mouth. Of course I aspire to fascinate, snare, and surprise the reader with a fabulous story, but I do not think I am the sort of writer who would endure the agony of the process without digging a deeper well.
I tend to imagine everything I create as an extension of myself and, in part, it is. I am following the pattern exemplified by our Creator – to create something after my own image – Ah! Yet that is the very thing that betrayed inspiration in my story about Sunny! It is the wrestling I suffer between what are my selfish motives for storytelling and what are the motives that consist of my faith and hope in the story that should be told that inspires me not only to continue to write but challenges me to grow as well. It is a story bigger than me.
Evaluate Your Inspiration
See? Apart from Christ, I have little worth replicating. Now, I write, I toil, and I aspire simply to sketch but an outline of the Creator’s heart for mankind… Because that is a task I can never outgrow. That is a story worth repeating. That is an inspiration as timeless as He Who was, Who is, and Who is to come.
If you are an artist who struggles with finding (or fleeting) inspirations, I would like to challenge you to examine why you do what you do and who you do it for. How do your creations fit into your overall purpose and meaning for life? And what do your creations reflect? – Your affections? – Your beliefs? – Your assumptions? – Your passion? – Your struggles? – Your heart? – Someone or something else? Inspiration lures us, in delight and pain, by plucking the cords of something past, present, or future within us… The question then becomes what lurks within us?