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October 20, 2010

Swati Avasthi: On Inspiration

Posted by jordana
Swati 1.jpg
Today we have a very special author post from Swati Avasthi on inspiration, and how she as an author finds it. Please be sure to comment on this post! Swati tells us why here: "Since this post is part of the “Before the Split” Blog Tour and Charity Auction, I will donate $1/comment on all the tour posts during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October). I have set a goal and cap of $250, and if we reach that goal, I will double my donation to Family Violence Prevention Fund. For more information on the tour and auction, visit me at
Thanks, Swati, for taking a stand on this important issue!
Have you heard the quote “Inspiration is for amateurs?” One of my writing mentors and heroes champions this idea. Since he is one of my heroes, of course I tried to adopt that philosophy – that professional writers sit down at their desks every day and bang out pages, that inspiration isn’t required for good writing, and that writing is a job. But try as I might to emulate him, I’ve found that I only agree in part. I agree with the advice that you should write everyday because it keeps the writing muscles limber, strengthens them with practice and stretches them with exercises and unfamiliar challenges. But I also believe in inspiration.
After all, I was inspired to write Split by listening to thousands of domestic violence victims recount their stories in the legal clinic I coordinated.
I’ve found that inspiration is overrated in beginning writers who cannot keep the butt in chair when there is no muse whispering in their ears. But it is underrated in professional writers. Or rather, it is renamed, giving it more specificity and shine. (We are, after all, writers, and specificity and polish is part of what we do). Mary Logue calls it “Honoring the work you do in your thinking time” and Mary Rose O’Reilley calls it “Feeding sticks to the fire.” The real difference seems to me that professional writers court inspiration while amateur writers wait for it to strike. (Not that it doesn’t strike the pros, often at inopportune moments. That’s part of the courting process, really. Check out the wise words of Elizabeth Gilbert.)
SPLIT.jpgI find inspiration in things that haunt me. I find inspiration in watching passerbys. I find inspiration in writing. I find inspiration in reading. I find inspiration in long walks and longer talks. I find inspiration in the moments between grocery shopping and doing homework. I find inspiration in the slope of my dog’s ear. I find inspiration in my dreams. I find inspiration in my nightmares. I find inspiration in the wake of words that were not said. I find inspiration in the Sandia Mountains, Estes Park, Schilthorn, and the foothills of the Himalayas. I find inspiration in the notes and rhythms pounding from my headphones. I find inspiration in the quiet hours when everything is still. I find inspiration in my mother’s frown. I find inspiration in listening to lectures about craft and artistic choices. I find inspiration in giving a lecture about craft and choices. I find inspiration in the frozen lakes of Minnesota in the winter and the thawing lakes as the ice cracks in the spring. I find inspiration in the rub-on decals on the back of my computer. I find inspiration in the words, “You can’t.” I find inspiration in keys to residences I’ve long since vacated. I find inspiration in deadlines. I find inspiration in the mirror work and block prints of Rajasthan, India.   I find inspiration in news stories. I find inspiration in watching marathoners at mile one, twelve, twenty and twenty-six. I find inspiration in architecture – the confinement of light and space and the dedication of rooms to a singular purpose. I find inspiration in the jump cut. I find inspiration in the Greek Chorus. I find inspiration in the bottom of a Starbucks cup. I find inspiration at the top of a roller coaster, just before the stomach-losing plunge. I find inspiration that has been discarded by another artist as an after-thought. I find inspiration in my home. I find inspiration in chocolate. I find inspiration in family photos. I find inspiration in the texture of wallpaper. I find inspiration in the texture of words as the echo off our upper palate, click off tongues, and slide through our lips. I find inspiration in the needle of a cactus. I find inspiration in the colors of a hot air balloon. I find inspiration in advice. I find inspiration in the needlepoint and embroidery of times past. I find inspiration in the things I don’t understand.
I find inspiration when I am open to it finding me. When I open my eyes, my ears, the pores of my skin, inspiration will burrow its way inside me and kindle the desire to write.*
Where do you find inspiration?
*Post inspired by Terry Tempest Williams’ essay, “Why I Write” from Writing Creative Nonfiction edited by Carloyn Forche and Phillip Gerard. Writer’s Digest, 2001.
 --- Swati Avasthi