Hullo, hullo! As you’ve probably guessed, I’m Anna Groover, from Girl with the Binder (girlwiththebinder.blogspot.com), my blog where I write overly long posts about reading, writing, and eating pokeberries (spoiler: don’t do it).
Clara approached me in February (I think, but who knows?) with the idea of doing this blog swap, and you have no idea how excited I am to be here. She’s always been an awesome friend to me, since years ago when she came up to me sporting a cheek-splitting grin, shook my hand enthusiastically, and said, “Hi, I’m Clara!!!” And you know what’s even better than doing a blog swap with an awesome writer? Doing a blog swap with an awesome friend. Fortunately for me, she happens to be both.
My topic is officially writing and inspiration. If you’ve read my blog, you know that I have trouble staying on one topic, and I tend to ramble, but for y’all’s sakes, I will try to keep it as trimmed and succinct as possible (ha!).
I’ll probably put in little clips of my writing whenever I feel like it, but the first, and main, piece is here; Rivenbark, one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I was actually unsure about using this piece, because it’s over a year old, and I have newer stuff, but in the end it came down to inspiration, and Rivenbark is a great example of inspiration. Below you see the first two scenes of the book.
. . . . . . . . .
Theodore was reading the morning newspaper as he did every day when his mother entered. He had originally started doing it only to imitate his father, but it soon developed into a habit. Mother placed a kiss on his cheek and glanced over his shoulder. “Oh, Theodore, do you see that? The water situation just seems to get worse and worse every day over there.”
He folded the newspaper, following his father’s example. “Women should not read the news. It ruins their disposition.” “Don’t worry, Mother. I’m sure the drought will be over soon.” He attempted to kiss her cheek, hit her ear instead, and focused on the wall clock behind her, a little ashamed of himself for being too distracted to give his mother proper affection.
“And how’s my son today?” Father bellowed as he stormed his way over the stairs, seeming as always as if his very presence would tear the house apart in an instant. His grey beard was neatly trimmed, with not a hair out of place, and his suit was flat and perfectly fitted. Theodore would never expect differently.
Still, he mused, perhaps a surprise would be welcome just once. Perhaps Mother would neglect to put her hair up before coming downstairs, or Father would dress in a t-shirt and overalls. At the thought, he smiled. The image was just too ridiculous.
“I’m well, Father.” He took a sip of his black coffee and straightened his tie. “And yourself?”
And there. That was it. The Norwood family had accomplished its daily morning interaction, and they were set until dinner. Theodore returned to his newspaper, feeling a strange combination of disappointment and relief.
Father cleared his throat. “Actually, Theodore, there’s something we’d like to discuss with you.” He waited for his son to look up, a long pause taking place, during which Mother could be heard pouring milk into her tea, adding sugar, and stirring. She sounded nervous, Theodore thought, listening with rapt attention, though he seemed utterly fascinated with the paper in his hands. At last, as she sat down next to him at the table, he looked up, fully meeting both of their eyes before speaking a word.
“I’m going to see a client in Norway in two weeks. We--your mother and I--due to several complications in this case, are going to be staying there for four weeks, which means you will be staying here alone.”
They looked at him for a reaction. Theodore didn’t give them one. It was obvious they expected some kind of response: fear, irritation, happiness, et cetera. However, he didn’t see how them going to Norway for four weeks would be that dramatic of a change. He was sixteen years old and could take care of himself. The servants would prepare food, and his time would be spent with Sebastian. The only things he would be losing were distantly affectionate greetings in the morning and sober candle-lit dinners in the evening that never amounted to much.
“Theodore?” his mother prompted, and he responded with a smile. The kind, charming smile he forced on his face when confronted with irritating but important strangers.
“I wish you well on your journey and thank you for your trust in me.” Father frowned. Mother’s face fell. Theodore picked up his coffee cup and took a sip, the dark liquid tasting like guilt in his mouth.
Two weeks later, he sat in that very spot right after his parents left for the airport. He found himself looking at the clock, at its habitually swinging pendulum. The tick tock reminded him of the passing of time, and he almost growled in frustration, but instead formed his features into a cynical smile. Clocks were prone to habit. How typical. And how very depressing.
“It’s inexcusable,” Theodore announced. “Absolutely inexcusable, Sebastian. I find myself bored.”
Sebastian looked over at his friend, noticing the way Theodore’s eyes were narrowed in frustration, his lips pressed in a straight, firm line. Every feature of him spoke rigidity. Though only sixteen years old, Theodore Richard Norwood IV was more imposing a picture than most adults.
“How about a trip to Arrowood?” he suggested.
“I have been to Arrowood,” the boy said, his voice dripping with disapproval. “I like it. It belongs to me. But I have been there, and there is a whole world outside of mine that I have not explored.”
“I want to explore it. I’ve come to realize that there is something that appeals to me about always taking the hardest way.” Theodore’s gaze was unreadable, his face bathed in evening light as he stared out across the river. A face like stone, Sebastian thought. A wall more impenetrable than any ancient civilization had ever built. “If you’re trying to make things as difficult as possible, you’ll never be disappointed. Life will be regretless.” A hint of a smile cracked the stone wall. “Of course, it’s hope that gets in the way. It’s hard to prepare for despair when there’s a nagging expectation that something good will happen.”
Sebastian didn’t say a word. He knew that whatever Theodore said next, it would be important. Really, things that his best friend said were almost always important. But Theodore was evidently restless, and that meant anything could happen.
A bird called out as it dipped low over the water, and Theodore’s eyes followed it, he evidently lost in thought. Sebastian tore a piece of grass apart, waiting for his companion to speak.
“Pack your bags,” Theodore said suddenly. “We leave tomorrow.”
Sebastian was used to surprises, so he merely nodded. “Where to?”
Theodore looked calmly over at him. “Somewhere far away. Somewhere very, very different.”
Now, I said something very important back there that you may or may not have missed. I said, “It makes me excited.”
Rule #1: Never write something that you’re not excited about.
So in case you’re wondering, yes, that “1” right there means there will be more rules. I know, I know, this is a post about inspiration! It’s supposed to be wild and free, unencumbered by all the rules and regs of structured life!
I’ll tell you right now, and don’t you forget this, that without rules, without structure, inspiration has no place to thrive.
Now onward! Let’s see about applying Rule #1 to our excerpt. I was fantastically excited about Rivenbark, because of Theodore. What inspired Theodore was actually Anthony Lockwood from Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. Not Anthony himself, though he is a beautiful character, but how he was described. Because he WASN’T. Before Rivenbark, my character development was awful, no doubt about it. I just didn’t know how to make a believable character. My books have always been very character-inspired (I write for the people, through their stories), but I never actually loved my characters after I’d started writing them. At least not with the passion with which I love Theodore, or with which I loved the characters I was reading. I didn’t understand a fairly simple, but profound, rule of CD: more is less.
And so, when I began plotting Rivenbark in the months before NaNoWriMo, I went in with these guidelines: Theodore is mysterious. This is good. We do not EVER need to feel like we know him completely. We will not even know his thoughts, except for at the beginning and end of the book. Everything in between will be third person subjective to the people around him. That being said, the book is about him.
I was excited by this, excited to try out an experiment, excited to go all in writing a character that even I wouldn’t understand. I mean, why do you think I wouldn’t write from his perspective? I couldn’t!
Rivenbark was an experiment. I was not expecting a masterpiece. I was not expecting it to be publishing-worthy. What I was expecting was to follow Rule #2:
Rule #2: Write what you want to write.
Sounds simple, right? Sounds a little like Rule #1, yeah? But whereas #1 was forbidding something, #2 is commanding something. Yikes, that sounds harsh. But here’s the deal: you aren’t inspired by something because of the something. You’re inspired by something because of you. Because something in you is wired to respond to that thing, whatever it is.
Do individuals change? You bet. I change all the time. You change all the time, even in the smallest of ways. Can we change which things we’re inspired by? Because if what I said up there is true, it’s not about changing external things. It’s something that starts here, in us.
Rule #3: To be an inspired writer, you must learn to control inspiration to a certain extent, rather than let it control you.
Some writers take to structure easily. That’s Clara. Then there are some who are disorganized, clutter-brained, and intent on plowing on anyway. That’s me. I love my life. God is my Father. My earthly parents are pretty awesome people. I have seven siblings, each unique and talented in their own ways. My whole life, I’ve lived in a really interesting area. I call it the country-ghetto, because it’s pretty much a fusion of the two. My childhood was full of conflict with my siblings, and I’ve still got scars from that, but I never doubt that we all love each other, and we can have the best times, we eight.
My point is, if I ask myself what I’m inspired by, all I have to do is look around me. And somehow, when I wrote Rivenbark, I stopped trying to write something unique. I stopped trying to be as good as everyone I read, and I wrote something I wanted to write. I wrote it because I loved it, because it excited me, and I gave my inspiration exactly the skeleton it needed to grow right.
Look, I could write a whole book on this, but this post has gone on long enough. I’ll try and wrap it up for you.
Those two scenes you read were messy, and filled with things I never followed up on. And they accomplished exactly what I wanted them to. I got excited. Theodore remained mysterious. Sebastian remained cool (not the right word, but whatevs, you know). And I didn’t care one bit that it wasn’t my neatest piece of work! It was glorious. It was fun. And it was exactly what I needed in order to keep plowing ahead without care.
Here’s one last thing for you to chew on until my next post, which will address this a lot more.
Rule #4: Never try to separate yourself from what you are writing.
I hope that was some sort of help. That was a pretty shallow overview of Rivenbark and the inspiration behind it, so if you didn’t get all you wanted out of it, come back and you just might get it.
Thank you, Clara, for having me on your blog! And thank you, readers, for reading this. Please, feel free to ask any questions you might have, and do go on over to my blog, Girl with the Binder, where Clara has her first post up.