Why is inspiration so tricky?

Today’s mail takes us to Arizona.

Lauren writes: I am a student at Aprende Middle School and in Ms. Angelea Herrera’s 8th grade advanced language arts class. We are currently working on a research paper and the main theme is to pick an author we’ve read and enjoyed. I personally chose you and your books because I’ve read all of the young adult books and enjoyed every single one.

While doing research I found a lot of information about your books and why you wrote them, but I haven’t found any information telling my why you wanted to write and what your inspriation was to not only write but to also write in the young adult series.

Thank you for your time.

Say “Hi” to Ms. Herrera for me, Lauren. I was at your school a couple years ago and I loved it.

The concept of inspiration is one that I struggle with. Students (and teachers) seem to think that there is one way to answer the question. It should be simple, it should flow off the tongue. “How long does it take you to write a book?” “A year or two.” “And where do you get your inspiration?”

It stops me cold every time.

Inspiration is a complicated thing. My books usually start in character. Melinda in SPEAK, Ashley in PROM, etc., etc., I see and hear them in my imagination before I understand what their problems are or have much of a clue about plot. Let’s use Ashley as an example. I knew that I wanted to write about a kid in a working class family. But I didn’t want the stereotypical working class family (I hate that), where all of the tragedies come out of the fact that sometimes money is tight. I wanted a fun, loving, wonderful family, with an 18 year old daughter who had no clue about what she was going to do after high school. If there was any inspiration for the book, it was the teens who come from that family situation who complained to me that they were tired of reading about middle and upper class suburban kids. So – they were my inspiration.

But, no, not exactly. Where did the idea for the prom come in? The crazy grandmother? The skeezy boyfriend? The plot twists at the pizza place, the math teacher, the dress? It is really hard to pin all of that stuff down. To be honest, I don’t think I want to. Most of writing is hard work; ten hours a day at a desk trying to tell a good story. Inspiration feels like magic to me. It’s the secret ingredient of writing. I don’t want to know where the magic comes from. I just trust it will be there when I need it.

Bruce Coville used to say there was a secret store at the mall where authors bought their inspiration. Maybe I should just use that line.

And why do I write for teenagers? Because they are interesting and I like them.

Hannah writes: I am a student from Evergreen High School located in Northwest Ohio.In school we have to pick a favorite book and i picked yours ,Prom. We have to answer some questions on our author and one of the questions is ,Is your author still writting? If yes ,what is she currently working on? So all I need to know if your still writing books and if you are then I would like to know what it is called.Thanks for your time and write back soon please.

And Julie writes: I was wondering if you had any new books coming out soon.

I’m working on it. I’m still puzzling about how to fix one arc problem in this revision. Assuming I can fix it this week, the new book will be out next spring.

You guys want to know the title of the new book? I can’t remember if I told you yet.

36 Replies to “Why is inspiration so tricky?”

  1. My Birthday

    Yay! It’s my birthday! I’m sixteen…and haven’t even taken my driver’s test….

    Yeah, I hate when people ask me why I wrote a poem or something. It’s like, Why does it matter? You don’t need to know that – I just did it just because! Plus, it distorts their perception of it, so I just shrug and say I don’t know – someitmes I really don’t. Sometimes things just come to me (like when one of my friends tells me she’s sad about her breakup or something) and I feel like I have to get them out, so I do.

  2. My Birthday

    Yay! It’s my birthday! I’m sixteen…and haven’t even taken my driver’s test….

    Yeah, I hate when people ask me why I wrote a poem or something. It’s like, Why does it matter? You don’t need to know that – I just did it just because! Plus, it distorts their perception of it, so I just shrug and say I don’t know – someitmes I really don’t. Sometimes things just come to me (like when one of my friends tells me she’s sad about her breakup or something) and I feel like I have to get them out, so I do.

  3. I once had a psychologist try to figure out where the inspiration for some of my stories came from :-/ It was weird, and I’m pretty sure they never got it right, lol.

    And wow, do a lot of kids do author studies. I don’t think I ever did one of those in school. If I did, it was back in the days before the Internet was huge so biography information on most contemporary authors was hard to come by. I’ll have to keep this idea in mind for when I get to teach 🙂

  4. I once had a psychologist try to figure out where the inspiration for some of my stories came from :-/ It was weird, and I’m pretty sure they never got it right, lol.

    And wow, do a lot of kids do author studies. I don’t think I ever did one of those in school. If I did, it was back in the days before the Internet was huge so biography information on most contemporary authors was hard to come by. I’ll have to keep this idea in mind for when I get to teach 🙂

  5. I have a good(!) Writing textbook this semester which describes creativity and inspiration as a sort of black box, and even if we could understand it, the book says, it’s best that we don’t try to mechanize the process of creativity, because its appeal is in not knowing – not quite understanding what’s going to happen next. Which i like.

    You have not announced your book’s title yet.

  6. I have a good(!) Writing textbook this semester which describes creativity and inspiration as a sort of black box, and even if we could understand it, the book says, it’s best that we don’t try to mechanize the process of creativity, because its appeal is in not knowing – not quite understanding what’s going to happen next. Which i like.

    You have not announced your book’s title yet.

  7. story arcs

    You often talk about story arcs in your novels. Would you please define what a story arc is, and discuss how different arcs relate to each other and pull the story along? Is there conventional wisdom for developing and using story arcs?

    Thanks!

  8. story arcs

    You often talk about story arcs in your novels. Would you please define what a story arc is, and discuss how different arcs relate to each other and pull the story along? Is there conventional wisdom for developing and using story arcs?

    Thanks!

  9. *bounces up and down*

    New book title, new book title, new book title!

    *gets looked at weird*

    *doesn’t care*

    New book title, new book title, new book title!

    Ahem…in sane human being, No, Ms. Halse-Anderson, you have not divulged the title of your latest work to your adoring LJ fanbase.

    *resumes bouncing cos it’s fun and y’all can’t see me anyway*

  10. *bounces up and down*

    New book title, new book title, new book title!

    *gets looked at weird*

    *doesn’t care*

    New book title, new book title, new book title!

    Ahem…in sane human being, No, Ms. Halse-Anderson, you have not divulged the title of your latest work to your adoring LJ fanbase.

    *resumes bouncing cos it’s fun and y’all can’t see me anyway*

  11. your book on PUSH website

    Hey there! I often check out PUSH’s website, and I found this when I looked in the ‘favorite authors’ section. I don’t know who Mackenzie is, but I totally agree with her thoughts on your book!

    I just finished a book called Speak.æ The author was Laurie Halse Anderson.æ This book wasn’t like the rest.æ It was about a teenage girl that had gotten raped and nobody knew about it.æ I really connected with this girl in the story.æ I think that’s why I really loved the story. The girl in this book was just an ordinary girl, not like most books where some of the characters are rich and sexy.æ This girl was just the opposite.æ She never got attention, and I think that is why the book appealed to me so much.æ This book also showed the darkness of High School.æ

    If you want a sad, disturbing but at some times very happy and understanding book, Speak is the one for you.
    MacKenzie/Age 14

  12. your book on PUSH website

    Hey there! I often check out PUSH’s website, and I found this when I looked in the ‘favorite authors’ section. I don’t know who Mackenzie is, but I totally agree with her thoughts on your book!

    I just finished a book called Speak.æ The author was Laurie Halse Anderson.æ This book wasn’t like the rest.æ It was about a teenage girl that had gotten raped and nobody knew about it.æ I really connected with this girl in the story.æ I think that’s why I really loved the story. The girl in this book was just an ordinary girl, not like most books where some of the characters are rich and sexy.æ This girl was just the opposite.æ She never got attention, and I think that is why the book appealed to me so much.æ This book also showed the darkness of High School.æ

    If you want a sad, disturbing but at some times very happy and understanding book, Speak is the one for you.
    MacKenzie/Age 14

  13. You guys want to know the title of the new book?

    yes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yes. I mean….

    If you want to.

  14. You guys want to know the title of the new book?

    yes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yesyes yes yes yes. I mean….

    If you want to.

  15. Yes, I really want to know the title of the new book! I hope it’s a good an catchy title…also, how is your historical fiction WIP going? I am really interested in knowing what time in history it takes place and everything about the main character. Can you tell us more about that WIP also?

  16. Yes, I really want to know the title of the new book! I hope it’s a good an catchy title…also, how is your historical fiction WIP going? I am really interested in knowing what time in history it takes place and everything about the main character. Can you tell us more about that WIP also?

  17. You guys want to know the title of the new book? I can’t remember if I told you yet.

    That’s almost as big of a cliff hanger as this contest you keep mentioning 🙂

  18. You guys want to know the title of the new book? I can’t remember if I told you yet.

    That’s almost as big of a cliff hanger as this contest you keep mentioning 🙂

  19. melinda

    this is from “melinda”[ from “speak”] this doesnt have anything to do with your thing, i need to know where i can find the movie “speak”. i think that movie is so insparation for me. i had, had something like that happen to me. if you have kids, watch out for who they hang out with. i was a little trouble maker, i didn’t care what anyone had to say i hung out with who ever i wanted. i did and look waht happened. i got in a little siuation jut like melinda in the story but she hung out with all the right people, but she had no control over what had happened to her. just like i had no control over what happened to me. so please tell me where i can find “speak” i would greatly appreciate that

    “melinda”

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