“ For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.” —Ernest Hemingway
I’ve learned you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to magically descend upon you like an invisible cloak out of a fair-weather cumulus cloud that resembles Tinker Bell. Or for your muse to whisper excellent plotting suggestions and lyrical phraseology in your ear as you sleep, perchance to dream. Try that philosophy and you could be hanging around taking up space for years, not getting anything at all written.
There is such a phenomenon as inspirational magic, though, and when it happens it’s a fine experience.
For some years I played fiddle with a group (violin is the same instrument, only it’s played in more sophisticated circles). We got together weekly in a drafty garage and worked up a play list of classic country stolen from Nelson, Jennings, Harris, Colter, Gosdin, and Zevon, along with popular favorites from Buffett, Seger, Santana, Madonna, and Kristofferson. We played at small receptions, at big charity affairs, out on the deck of a hotel/marina, at posh and not-so-posh private parties, once even in a dewy field on a cold night during a deer-hunting contest barbecue. Our fingers kept going numb, and a couple of our members were surreptitiously sipping high-octane moonshine to ward off the chill.
When you play in public for a client, you have to begin at an appointed time, no matter whether you feel particularly musical just then or not, and you have to keep at it for an agreed-upon interval of from one to several hours. It’s not always the thing you’d most like to be doing. Sometimes it was a real struggle for all six of us to keep correct and steady time, get all our amplified volumes balanced, start and stop each tune together, and sync the harmony. But there’s no alternative except to keep flailing away at it, at least if you want to get paid at the end of the gig.
Then there are those rare and wonderful times. Like one night in a smoky bar in the military town of Jacksonville, NC, where the crowd was well-lubricated and boisterous, singing along and giving us excessive ovations. Around eleven o’clock, my fiddle began almost playing itself, the tones sweeter, the pitch perfect, the gliding bow vibrating the strings without effort. I could feel all of us playing flawlessly together, far better than we had in months. It was magical, and the crowd seemed to sense it. The gig was supposed to be from eight to midnight. We didn’t reluctantly quit until two.
A similar magic can happen in writing, when the words seem to be floating in out of nowhere and fitting together seamlessly, emotively, powerfully. The feeling is exceptional.
But the only way to have any hope of achieving that wonderful magic, I believe, is to plug away at our writing as best we can hour after dogged hour and every possible day. Until, one day, we happily find ourselves writing better than we can.