Finding writing inspiration; using there, their, they're
Published: May 25, 2010
Q: I haven’t felt very inspired lately, so I haven’t been writing much and I’m worried about this. Is there anything I can do?
A: Yes, you can write. That’s the only answer. It’s short, simple and true. Writing begets writing. If you engage in the act and keep at it—even if you’re writing drivel at first—you’ll eventually gravitate toward something that interests you.
Many writers think that they need to wait for inspiration to strike in order to motivate or energize them toward a story or poem. Some writers speak of the muse, as if the idea and emotional upwelling of creation comes from an external source. This romantic notion makes the process seem effortless. Who wouldn’t want to be the special person visited by such a rush of energy and innovation? But, in reality, this line of thinking renders the author passive. He’s waiting at his desk, longing for inspiration. He feels abandoned by his muse, who visits only occasionally. He’s sad, lonely and powerless.
I certainly don’t know every last particular of the creative process. At the very least, elements of it are shrouded in mystery. Still, one thing is certain. If you sit around and wait for the muse to come a-courting, you’re not writing. You’re just staying out of the way. Instead, put words on the page as a way to invite inspiration.
Some writers swear by a daily writing journal. Others make writing appointments and keep them the way they would a meeting or a doctor’s appointment. Logging time with the page in this way can help you practice translating emotion and also offer a place to toy around with ideas, experiment, and consider interesting bits that come up in your daily life. Much of this won’t amount to anything, but some of it will. You’ll be too busy following those leads to lament a lack of inspiration.
Inspiration doesn’t strike from above, carried by some magical force. The process is messier and involves more of your labor. And it’s much closer to the ground where all the mere mortals tread. Inspiration is unearthed. And to unearth it, you must till the soil.
Q: I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know the true distinction between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” I mess these up often enough that I could use clarification.
A: These three words are homophones, which are pronounced the same but have different meaning and spelling. As a result, usage can be confusing. But they’re easy enough to differentiate and set to memory.
“They’re” is a contraction of “they are.” For example:
They’re angry I moved to Cincinnati. If you’re not sure whether you’ve used “they’re” correctly, replace it with “they are.” If the sentence works, you’re in the clear.
I’m not convinced they’re going to succeed.
“Their” is a possessive pronoun that indicates something belongs to them:
My neighbors have lost their dog.
Their garden is beautiful.
“There” often refers to place:
She needs to stand right there.
It must be exciting to work there.
It can also be used as an introductory subject:
There are many people waiting for the bus.
Sometimes it is an interjection. Here, it expresses satisfaction:
There, the paint is dry.
Any time you use one of these words, double check that you’ve made the right choice. While many misuses happen because the author doesn’t know the differences, others are a result of carelessness.
# # #
Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She
was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for
Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University,
University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a
visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Send your questions on the craft of creative writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. All of Brandi's other Q&A columns are available to registered users.