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.