By Stephanie Austin
Somewhere in my room is a marked-up second draft of a poem with which I have no idea what to do. One night I’ll likely tear through piles of sweaters, books, and old assignments in an attempt to find it and coax out something worthwhile.
I’d like to think of it as buried treasure, the last remnants of a burst of inspiration before hitting writer’s block. It’s a nicer way of talking about a poem that literally has been neglected somewhere in my room.
The poem stems from anger bubbling over to the extent that it had to be released. Of course I turned to writing. It was not something I had to do for an assignment, but because I wanted to write something I personally thought I needed to write. In that moment the situation and emotions were a muse, as I recall from Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. There was no way around that muse.
In comparison, I have no way around my current state, in which I must find muses or lower myself to writing fluff because assignments are due for class. I get little choice of what to write first. I have deadlines.
Letting time slip by, I managed to kill two short stories. Sometimes letting the piece simmer is a good thing and I can return to it later with new ideas. That requires thinking about the original idea, yet I could find no way around how I had set the first story up. So I completely scrapped the idea and instead wrote a twenty-two page story in six hours for poor classmates to read. I’m surely something of a writing hypocrite for not following the initial idea until I figured something out, or not getting absorbed in the story rather than let it die.
Part of the issue is that I had another muse: an essay. Everything is in place for the magic to happen. In the past, only poems or stories could get me to roll out of bed at two in the morning when I’m thinking about the particulars of a new piece while my body tells me to sleep. But this paper managed to do the same thing.
Perhaps my two-in-the-morning inspirations are penance for my usual habit of setting aside my writing during the day. Either way, when the motivation reaches a limit and hits, it hits hard. Bullet points turn into full sentences, details, early corrections, and criticisms, and I end up with several pages of writing and a hand cramp before finally returning to my sweet bed.
All this occurred in the middle of November, National Novel Writing Month, which I likely heard mention of at least once a day since October, though I didn’t participate. I still ended up writing every day, just not always what I wanted to. Having a goal like NaNoWriMo becomes both a requirement and an inspiration, a reminder for any writer not to write what she has to, but what she wants to. This reminder starts not as necessity, but a choice, a desire. When time isn’t set aside for what wants to be written, inspiration gets suppressed. Eventually it will come out somehow, and not at the most opportune times. The inherent value of writing for a writer, I’ve learned, means it’s a temptation impossible to deny forever.
It’s been said so many times, and I’ve heard it so many times, but I’m still learning to just keep writing. I can’t let school be my sole motivation. I won’t be in school forever. Not making time for what I want to write, the writing will still find me. I should go look through those piles for my poem.