from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Entry #60: What I’ve Learned about Inspiration

with 2 comments

I’ve taken a break from the manuscript for the past month. I haven’t been doing much writing at all. I’d like to blame the weather. It’s monsoon season.

Not that I haven’t been minimally productive. I’ve actually started work on my second book, the one that came to me in a revelation sitting in traffic on my way home from my part-time job.

I also have ideas lined up for my second and third novels and possibly a fourth, and I’m also sporadically working on a screenplay. The inspiration for the third and fourth came long, long ago and I can’t recall the particulars of how they were conceived but they are based on thoughts that I’ve carried around with me for a very long while. The ideas for the second novel and the screenplay are the most recent, seeds that I’ve just planted in the past couple months.

Inspiration is a strange and often frustrating thing. I can only compare it to women and I think it’s an apt comparison. There are some guys to whom it comes easily, who know how to create opportunities and capitalize on those opportunities. And then there are guys like me, for whom it is fickle and elusive because I don’t know how to approach it. I have, however, learned a few things even if I’m unable or unwilling to put them into practice.

1. Take what you can get. You can throw away what you don’t want later.

This is the point that I find unable to apply in my own life. Maybe I’m not as “hungry” as I thought I was. Even if you’re a one-project type of guy, you can always keep the other ideas on the backburner until you’re finished with the one you’re working on. And Krys told me that I should be working on one more than one project at once. It keeps the mind fresh.

Also, you can never tell how things will turn out. Some of the ideas that I fell in love with at first petered out fairly quickly and some of the ideas I wasn’t ecstatic about turned out to be the ones I’m most excited about now. I’ve never been interested in writing screenplays but when my actor friend Don approached me about working on an idea that came to him in a dream, I could see the potential in the idea. The situation is a devil’s threesome but I’m the Hank Moody is this one.

2. Always be prepared.

The right pocket of my jeans is stained with ink. (No, “ink” is not a metaphor for anything.) I try to always have a reliable pen on hand at all times. I’m still a product of a time when girls wrote down their numbers on little, torn-out shreds of paper or bar napkins. I think I still have the notes for my second novel written on bar napkins somewhere in the pig sty I call home. Sometimes I’ll make notes on the Memo function of my phone but I type too slowly to keep up with the ideas and it’s just not as meaningful as having it down on paper.

The pen in my pocket is the condom in your wallet. Because inspiration can be very fickle, it might not be in the mood or have sobered up in the time you spend running around trying to find a pen. The idea for the screenplay came to Don in a dream and the thing he did right was grab a pen and notebook and write down everything before it was gone. You can’t go about your morning routine expecting inspiration to be waiting around until you’re done.

3. A little help from my friends

I spend the majority of my time alone at the coffee shop. While there was an instance where I was approached by a cute little thing with a nasally voice who dropped a small folded note on my table before running off embarrassed, it was a one-time event in over five years. The coffee shop is like my workplace, where I go to put in the hours needed to pound out the details. It’s a place of inspiration only insofar as the writing goes, not a place of fresh ideas.

Every relationship I’ve had, however short-lived they’ve been, sprung out of a social situation, drinking with friends. I drink on my own more often than not, but nothing has ever happened when I’ve been on my own. In most of the cases, being out with my friends created opportunities that I don’t have in the hole that I live in, but there are at least two cases where I doubt anything would have materialized had it not been for my wingmen.

Krys also told me that a community is important for writers. I didn’t want to acknowledge her advice because I don’t think I’d get along with other writers, but now I realize that she was right. The idea for my second novel also came when I was having a drink with Don. He was telling me an anecdote from his rowdy childhood and I realized that it was something I could build a story around. My interactions with my editors, Dan and Diane, have proven invaluable for my growth as a writer. I used to assert that I was a man that was an island but I can say now that I’m more of a peninsula.

4. Alcohol is generally helpful

“Write drunk,” Ernest Hemingway said.

We are normally so full of inhibition that we trip our creative selves up all the time. We overthink and overthinking leads to inaction. Drunkenness lowers our inhibitions, allows us to get out of ourselves, gives us courage to say the things we want to say and do the things we want to do. I suppose many other mind-altering substances will work but alcohol is the most readily available.

Normally boring people suddenly become interesting and things happen. I can’t remember telling a story that didn’t start with—“So I was out drinking last weekend….” It’s not always a good time and is a significant drain on my meager earnings but a story is a story and I don’t know if I’d have anything to say if I decided to sober up.

Of course, everybody’s tolerance is different and finding that sweet spot is important. You want to drink to a point where you can still function at a reasonable level while gaining the courage and eloquence that only alcohol can give. You don’t want to be the sloppy drunk that’s passed out in his own vomit.

“Edit sober,” Ernest Hemingway added.

Make your decisions the day after. Alcohol unleashes the deep, dark innards of our souls and sometimes that’s the best part of our souls but sometimes that shit should not be put in the open. Take a good look in the morning after and see if what you have is something to work with more or something you’d gnaw your arm off to get away from.

5. There’s such a thing as trying too hard.

There’s nothing worse than a guy who reeks of desperation. Inspiration is repulsed by such guys. I’ve seen it too many times, especially in my own life. The harder I try, the worse things seem to turn out.

It’s important to stay loose and relaxed. Sitting in front of the computer isn’t going to change anything. Usually when I get to that point, I try and take a break to distract myself and gain perspective.

And what they say is true, sometimes it comes when you least expect it, when you’ve stopped trying. The inspiration for my next two books came when I wasn’t thinking about writing. The first was when I was driving home from work and the second was when I came out just to have a quiet beer with a friend.

This last point is the one that gives me the most hope. Being shy and lazy and anti-social and short and poor, I don’t have much game. But every once in a while, I somehow manage to get lucky.

I’m probably the last guy anyone would turn to for advice on writing or relationships, but the thing that allows me to dare to write is that I’m an observer. I pay attention to people and listen when people are talking. I can see my faults, I can decipher the psychology that makes me the way I am, but I can’t do anything to change them.

This list is not exhaustive, but I’m ending it here because it has been exhausting. If you have any other tips, feel free to leave a comment.


2 Responses

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  1. Words to live by. (I have no other tips to offer, unfortunately. I did hear from a poet in Walla Walla, once, that it helps to lead an interesting life. His point was that, if your life is eventful, you’ve got plenty of fodder for your literary efforts. Because he was an asshole, he was implying that my life, up to that point, hadn’t been very interesting.)

    Kevin Kim

    August 3, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    • Unfortunately, drinking also leads to intense bouts of shame and stupidity. I always feel very anxious the day after blacking out while drinking because the seal on that demon inside of me gets broken and I don’t know who to apologize to and for what. (This happened yet again last Friday.) I still don’t know where the sweet spot is and it’s problematic because it’s changing as I get older and my health is getting worse.

      And really, who’s to say that eventful equates to better? There are a lot of people who have led eventful lives that are complete bores. And there are a lot of events I could’ve done without. I guess it’s about making the most with what you have. If there are holes, it’s not like you can’t fill them later. Or at least that’s what I hope.


      August 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

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