Aphelion Issue 289, Volume 27
November 2023
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Where Do You Go For Inpsiration

by Gwen Knighton

Yesterday, my husband and I went through all the books on two of our massive bookshelves, and we managed to identify enough books that we didn't think we'd ever want to read or read again to fill four boxes. (I said the bookshelves were massive, didn't I? Wait 'til we get to the paperbacks!) During this task, we found things we had forgotten about, found things we'd been looking for, found things we didn't know we needed, and laughed at stuff we'd never want to look at again. I do feel the need to inform you that we did keep a couple of books that were just too bad to throw away (we're the same way with films)!

So much of our lives' histories were present in the books we went through. We identified closed chapters in our lives that we'd want to remember, and we kept those books. Other things, things that meant less to us or were only important for a very brief period in our lives (I kept The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, for example, but got rid of What to Expect When You're Expecting), those things were put into boxes. Soon, we'll donate those boxes to charity shops or libraries, after we've given friends a chance to come round and see if they want anything.

One of the books that came to light yesterday was A Writer's Notebook, copyright 1984 by Running Press, which has been absorbed into a larger press conglomerate and probably doesn't remember this book at all. In fact, it was a fad book, a cheaply put together "blank book" with fancy, textured paper. I never wrote a word in it. It cost $4.95 in 1984, and you can buy it today for £1 or so via Alibris. But I kept it, through all the years and all the moves. Why did I keep it?

I kept it because on every page, there is a different quote about writing.

Now, I know you can do a web search for quotes about writing any day of the week and come up with more pithy writing advice in two minutes flat than you could ever manage to read, even if you disallowed redundant results. But there's something about thumbing through this book that I must have had since I was seventeen or eighteen years old, and choosing the first quote I come to, that just gives me a little thrill.

What happens when I try it now? I get this:

Each author is in every essential a foreigner but lately emigrated from the one land which is comprehensible to him.
--James Branch Cabell (1879-1958), American novelist and essayist

A foreigner but lately emigrated from the one land which is comprehensible to him. Do you feel that way, when you're deep in the landscape of your current project, and the phone rings, and you have a hard time taking yourself out of your world, the one you're writing about, even if it's a twenty-one line poem? At worst, I suppose that means that as writers we live in our heads. At best, it's a metaphor about life and work and how real those worlds we live in when we're writing become to us.

It makes me want to go into my world again, even though the clock says I have only about an hour and a half before my son gets home from school. The trick is to know how to conjure up that world and enter it whenever we need to, even if it's only for a little while, to get a little bit done, or to put in a detail that it wouldn't do to forget.

But how do you create that temple-in-an-instant? How do you call it down for just thirty minutes or even less, when you might be interrupted or called away? Well, there are a million little tricks, aren't there? Everybody says, "Use music," which works for most things. There's a bird singing outside my window, and that's a good one. Staring at the tree outside my window helps, too. Evocative smells, like baking bread or a particular flower essence, those are also good. In a world where so many things conspire to distract us and we don't always have the freedom to just get away from it all, being able to recreate bits of that lush world inside our heads is sometimes the best creative inspiration there is.

© 2007 Gwen Knighton

Gwen Knighton is an author and musician who lives in London, England. She currently works as the marketing coordinator for The English Folk Dance and Song Society, and spends the rest of her time writing novels and playing the wirestrung harp. Her 2002 album, Box of Fairies, can be ordered at CDBaby.com

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