Fuel for the Fires of Inspiration

Category: Writing

The struggles of writers who have produced art out of suffering and persecution are well documented and celebrated, and rightly so. Less high profile is the struggle of writers who try desperately to produce art out of their normal, workaday lives. These writers (and I count myself among this massive group of dogged triers) simply toil away in the background with a faint flutter of hope in their hearts. What makes it continue to flutter? Or to make it sound a bit less pathetic, what keeps that fire in the soul? I've been asking myself this recently, as the pressures of parenthood, work, cuts, and so on pile themselves on top of my fire like clods of damp earth. What fuels the fire when you struggle to write for ten minutes a day? Will it eventually be buried under all that stuff that keeps being shovelled on top of it? I hope not.


I've always written about the local anyway, so inspiration has always been easy to find. I've written a series of poems about an area near my home simply because it is where I take my dog for a walk every day. My characters are always drawn from people I've known or seen. Recently I've noticed a few trends in my writing and I'm trying to put my finger of where they came from. One recurring theme is the Beastie Boys. They have appeared in at least one of my poems so far and keep cropping up in the novel I'm writing. I like the Beastie Boys (Paul's Boutique has to be one of the albums of the 80s) but I'm hardly a fanatic, and I don't know if they represent anything I'm trying to do in my writing. I have been thinking about the guys I used to see hanging about my estate in the late 80s with their skateboards and ghetto blasters, playing Public Enemy or LL Cool J tapes. I'd walk past, staring, and it felt like I was getting a glimpse of New York's cultural zeitgeist right there on the steps of the Bellfield church.


Another recent theme is the corners or buildings that you see in town landscapes that seem to be recycled, re-used, and rarely loved. The out of luck brown-space we walk past every day, thinking 'what used to be there?'Urban planning isn’t as interesting as 80s hip-hop but I'm beginning to see some parallels: re-use, the context of change, the shifting of our cultural and environmental signposts, etc.


At the moment I don't even have these tenuous themes to draw on. Having our second baby recently has meant writing is something I only manage in my dreams. Searching for inspiration during sleepless nights and crazed parenting days isn't easy. Ideas fly around tired, frazzled brains just the same, but they usually fly back out again fairly quickly. The fire flickers on though. Sleep deprivation is a classic condition of the struggling writer. I'm not sure if Dostoevsky or Hamsun stared into the eyes of CBeebies presenters, trying to search their souls for something deeper lurking behind those grins. You have to take whatever fuel you can. There's always something worth writing about, even if you can only barely see it through red and weary eyes. 


Ross McGregor

Ross McGregor received a New Writers Award in 2008.