That Magic Moment (That’s Surrounded by Work)

“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

— Chuck Close

There is a magical moment, one that happens at least once per finished piece of writing, when I know that something needs to be written, and why. I don’t take this for granted. Most ideas never get that far. I have a process that kills off most ideas early, and only the few that give me the great “aha” moment make it to the page. That just makes the survivors valuable enough that I will lovingly shepherd them forth, making any sacrifices necessary.

Before I talk about “the moment,” though, I need to dispel any hope that this is brought about by glorious moments of inspiration. It is forced out through a repeatable process with a clear, boring beginning: an assignment and a blank page. I could, theoretically, already have a solid idea, but that’s never happened (see me crushing earlier dreams of inspiration). No. I have to force ideas out through the pressure of an assignment. The assignment is normally self-created and self-imposed, but I’m a strict task master once I make an assignment. It can be a vague idea (e.g., 90s hardcore music), a fun theme (e.g., Christmas), or an actual request from someone else (e.g., short story for a horror collection). Whatever the case, that’s the assignment.

Now, I brainstorm. I write down a lot of ideas. Most of them are bad. Many are very bad. I keep writing. If nothing sticks, I re-think the parameters or re-contextualize the assignment to give myself more space to work with. Then, I write more ideas. At this point, they are still mostly bad, but one or two may spark a trail that I will follow… until it dead-ends into more bad ideas. At some point, if this thing will ever be written, I will write something down that just clicks.

What does it mean to click? It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I will, by chance or plagiarism, have a couple of good ideas, but they are disposable. No. At some point, I will write a germ of a seed of an idea down that gets me excited. It gets me so excited that I suddenly think, “This has to be written!” I will even know why it has to be written. Brainstorming about 90s hardcore music, I might write down “cult,” and I really see “detail a decade of spiritual abuse and a cult coming out of the insular Christian hardcore scene of the 90s.” Now, in a flash, I have something that will be written because I have something I believe must be written.

Why does that moment matter? Well, the first obvious reason is because all the ideas that don’t spark that moment are bad, boring, or stolen. The more important reason, for me, is that’s the moment of excitement that reminds me why I don’t go to bed early or sleep in, and why I exist a year behind in every streaming show my friends are talking about. It doesn’t just remind me why I’m sacrificing, it makes it not even a sacrifice to give up sleep or Netflix to bring this thing — that I now believe has to exist — into the world.