As we start a new year and I’m early into the writing of my fifth book, “Every Second Counts,” I pause today to reflect on the things that inspire me.
Like most writers, I soak up inspiration like a sponge. We need inspiration because we sit alone, hunched over our keyboards for long – really long – hours to pour out and worry over our stories. When the sponge gets dry, there are several regular watering holes I visit to draw more inspiration. So, I thought I’d share a few of my “inspiration pools” with everybody else.
First of all, I’m inspired daily by little gifts that I’ve collected from fellow authors and, especially, my readers. It’s not just because they were given to me, but because they remind me of people I like: an awesome Mardi Gras necklace from Ali Vali, primo storyteller who is as entertaining as her books; a Christmas tree ornament from Q Trading Company, our bookseller at the Bold Strokes Books festival in Palm Springs last year; a tiny Herrods “Bobby” bear from UK writer Jane Fletcher (another BSB author) and her funny wife, Joanie; a cloth tag from the helicopter factory where one fan works in Australia; a Fresno, Calif, police medallion that came with a thank you note officer LJ Reynolds – it simply said, “Thanks for writing great stories.” It inspires me to know that my writing has made friends for me all over the world.
Something else I find inspiring as I try to balance a full-time job, mundane things such as oil changes, lawn mowing and laundry, and my passion for writing: the work ethic of college athletes.
College is hard. To get good grades, you have to study… a lot. It’s also a time of discovery, being responsible for yourself for the first time. When I go to a Duke basketball game and see these young woman throw themselves into their sport, I am acutely aware of the discipline and determination necessary to balance playing for a Top Ten-ranked team and measuring up to Duke’s high academic standards. I’m in awe of these young women warriors.
Their theme this year was taken from team member Allison Verneray’s work with Duke Hospital’s cancer center: One Team, One Fight. I think the photo of them portrayed as boxers so cool, I hung it over my desk in my writer’s cave. It inspires me on a daily basis.
Inspiration can also come from some unusual and unexpected places.
In my foyer hangs a colorful piece of modern art. I love to ask what people see when they look at it. They invariably say, “I see a horse.” That’s probably because my house is filled with horse things that I have collected or people have given me. Often they’ll say, “Wow. Did you paint that?” or “Is that from a local artist?”
My answer is no. The artist is from Virgina. Before the media industry started laying off half its journalists, my annual reward every year was to be given 10 days off from my regular job as night metro editor so I could spend the time blogging at the State Fair. I love the fair and all the interesting people there. That’s where I met Smithfield, the artist.
You see, Smithfield is a pot-bellied pig. I had to do a lot of (literal) back-scratching to get an interview with him. But then, he’s not just any portrait-painting pig.
Smithfield has survived two bouts of snout cancer. Still, he performs. He is clearly disdainful of the dog tricks his owner puts him through during their little show, but he attacks an empty canvas with relish. He obviously loves his art. Like I love writing. Writers have to remind themselves of that when making the necessary timelines and character lists seems like dog-tricks.
Finally, I draw inspiration every day, several times a day from a plaque given to me by my parents. It hangs over the towel rack in my bathroom, so that when I’m getting ready to go out or ready for bed or doing other necessary things in that room, my eyes find it. It’s like the maid in “The Help” telling the lonely little girl she cared for: “You is smart, you is kind, you is important.” Everybody needs to hear that every day of their lives. My parents managed to find a plaque that says the same thing in a different way. A way that inspires me.