Someone asked me about inspiration today. Really, someone did. This isn’t one of those bullshit pieces of writing where the author poses some nonsensical hypothetical question that came out of his own head and tries to pass himself off as some guy people are always asking for crumbs of wisdom. This actually happened. I thought about ignoring it and coming up with some excuse for not giving a comprehensive answer, but it’s been running around my head for a few hours and I’m going to give this a try and see what happens.
This is highly relevant for me right now because I don’t have as many sources of inspiration as I once did. It’s very easy to write volumes about bouncing in nightclubs when you’re working as a nightclub bouncer multiple nights each week. You take a pad and pen to work, wait for something to happen, then write it down. Then, when you get home – or at some point soon after – you tell the story as best you can.
That’s inspiration. Now, line by line, it’s a different story. That’s where you have to take a long, hard look at what you’re writing about and decide which parts of it need to be “fleshed out” – sorry for using cheesy literary agent-speak here, but it fits – and which parts are better off left on the cutting room floor.
I didn’t start off as a professional writer. I could write in coherent, grammatically correct sentences, and I pretty much spelled every word right, but I didn’t know anything about this process, so I told stories in a very literal style. I started at the beginning, wrote down what happened, and finished things off with the coup de grace, which was usually some particularly cutting remark by one of my coworkers at the expense of some unfortunate prick who’d been thrown out of the club.
“Hey man, you’d better get home quick! They chain up the gate to the trailer park at three!”
And so on.
The archives of this blog go back a lot further than December 2005, but I took a lot of it “off the air” for various reasons. When I look at those original posts, they’re very different from the way I write now. They’re more succinct, for sure, but there’s an innocence to them that I think was lost when this site developed a following and people started critiquing everything I did.
This has been a terrific way to learn how to write – probably better than any college classroom I could’ve been sitting in for the years I was seriously going at it here. Among the people who’ve suggested ways I can improve my writing over the years have been college English professors, book editors from major publishing houses, literary agents, fellow magazine editors and writers – and yes, I can say “fellow” because that’s what I get paid to do now – and exceptional people from virtually all walks of life. The writing education I’ve received within the confines of my email inbox as been priceless.
Still, those initial posts have something I can’t really put my finger on. I suppose it is a form of innocence. Back then, I was just a schmuck with a shitty $100 a night side job who saw some funny stuff and wrote about it for the benefit of a few of my friends. The story – delivered in a group email to about five of my friends – that spawned this blog is a perfect example. It went something like this:
“Dude, they had these female dancers up on boxes last night, and I saw some dude whip his cock out and start stroking himself in front of one of them, but I didn’t throw him out because who the fuck would want to touch that?”
Back then, I always thought I had an advantage over people who simply went back and forth to mundane jobs, then came home and tried to conjure something up to write. What I was doing was real. I was in the middle of it. I was standing there with a piece of paper and a pen, at the damned club, surrounded by assholes, observing them and writing down shorthand notations I could take home and turn into stories that would make my friends laugh. That was some good shit, and that, still to this day, qualifies as the best form of inspiration I’ve ever had to write anything.
That’s not to say I’m not inspired now, because I still am. Getting paid to do this – and who the fuck ever thought that would happen back in early 2004 when I couldn’t even figure out how to set this site up? – inspires me plenty, especially when I have something interesting to do. There’s a purity to simply telling a story, though, and that’s something I’d lost for a while when I went through my trying-to-impress-everyone-with-my-dimestore-vocabulary phase. Go back far enough in the archives and you’ll come across that period. It’s not pretty, but I learned.
I learned that the best way to get your point across is usually in the fewest number of words possible. I learned which parts of a story to tell, and which to leave out. I learned that this knowledge – knowing the right angle to take – comes from somewhere in my head, and I learned that this is an instinct that develops through extensive reading. You have to write, but you also have to read. A ton.
So, inspiration. Where does it come from? Man, it fucking comes from everywhere. From everything and everyone around you. From what you did yesterday. From what you’re planning on doing tomorrow. From what you’re doing right now, at this very moment. You can take these things and find damned near anything inside of all of it to write about. The person that asked me that question today inspired me to sit down and write almost a thousand words on the subject simply by asking me the question. There’s always something there. Always. You just have to wait for it, but it’ll let you know it’s there. Every single time.