I’ve been thinking a lot lately about staying inspired.
I’m not talking about finding ideas, characters, plots, essay topics or images for poems, but encouragement to keep writing and affirmation that writing is well worth the effort. I’m talking about staying inspired and knowing that regardless of where you’re writing – in an isolated garret on a desolate moor or at a table in a crowded café – you’re never really alone, but a member of an order called to articulate the fine points of human existence as you experience or imagine it, and that this is an honorable endeavor.
The most positive way I’ve found of staying inspired is
reading a well-written book about writing. Most recently, I read Ann Patchett’s collection of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It was a pleasure to learn about Patchett’s journey from a waitress to a journalist to a widely read novelist and now an owner of a successful independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.
The essays range from magazine assignments to pieces written specifically for this collection. As in any good collection, its organization creates a narrative arc so that the whole is greater than its parts. The book opens with Non-Ficton, an Introduction, in which Patchett tells the story of learning to support herself by writing non-fiction for Seventeen Magazine. The book concludes with an essay about Patchett’s former teacher turned friend, a seventy-eight year old nun who faces moving from communal living in the convent to live by herself in an apartment with little practical experience and a lifetime of faith.
In between these two essays are stories about being called to write and the importance of storytelling in her life. Patchett explains, “the story is in us, and all we have to do is sit there and write it down. But it’s right about there, right about when we sit down to write that story, that things fall apart.”
I’d be hard-pressed to explain why I find what could easily be considered a demoralizing observation inspirational, but I do. I supposed I’m thrilled to know that even a novelist of income-producing novels admits that while there is no question about being called to write, that doesn’t really make it easy.
I’m also inspired by Patchett’s moral courage. In The Right to Read, Patchett stands up to censorship, and in The Bookstore Strikes Back, she tells the remarkable story of starting an independent bookstore exactly when bricks and mortar chains are crumbling. This is brave stuff.
And of course, I loved the story of the happy marriage, the marriage that Patchett resisted for so long, the marriage that makes her a better person.
This collection of funny and wise essays affirmed what and how I write, and it inspired me to keep on doing it.
Thank you, Ann Patchett.
Other inspiring books about the writing life that I’ve reviewed here include:
- Book Trout and the Writing Life
- The Artists Way
- Writing to Change the World
- 100 Days to Weight Loss
- Bird by Bird
- Unless It Moves the Human Heart
Where do you get your inspiration to keep pushing the pen forward?
Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio, teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council and blogs at Living In Place and The Middle Ages.