One Percent Inspiration: Guest blog by US author Tara L. Masih and book giveaway

We’ve all heard this quote many times (it’s actually a slight misquote from Albert Einstein), that creativity is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. For the most part, this feels like a truism to anyone who struggles to finish a poem, story, play, song, or novel. However, what about that one percent?

A question I’ve been asked a lot lately, since I just came out with a debut collection, is what inspires me as a writer? In other words, where does that one per cent arrive from? I never had to think so closely about the process before. In the past, I just waited or looked for inspiration, not giving much thought as to how it happens.

I’ve become conscious that my main source of inspiration is travel. My father, with a PhD in psychology, often used to tell me and my brother that it was important to put positive, beautiful images into our minds because images never leave us. Once our vision processes a scene or picture, it is stored in our unconscious forever. Our minds are one big filing drawer that stretches to infinity. This is one reason I’ve tried to avoid graphic violence on TV and film; one reason I like to garden, go to art museums, and explore different places and cultures. I don’t shrink from reality or disturbing human situations, but I don’t want to waste space in my cabinet on gratuitous images that can depress, if too much accumulates.

I remember early on spending a summer in London, when I was about six years old. Everything I came into contact with intrigued me — the townhouse garden, the towering foxgloves, the neighbors, the strawberries we ate out of a paper cone, the huge pennies, Big Ben, the countryside, the ballet under the stars, the cliffs and castle ruins where King Arthur supposedly roamed. But nothing intrigued me more than the Queen. I toddled around the garden in my grandmother’s high heels, wearing a crown of ball-fringe pom-poms I had sewn together, and carrying over one arm a handmade pouch I had primitively created — I was pretending to be Her Majesty. Perhaps it was the beginning of my desire to get into other people’s minds, even before I could really read and had any sense of writing or being a writer. I was building a character I didn’t know in my own childish way.

Since then, all the files of color, smells, objects, flora and fauna, weather, architecture, culture, personality, clothing, and food are my ingredients for story making. In the same way that someone turns to a little tin or wooden box of recipes that’s been handed down for generations to build a family meal, I turn to that mental file box to mix and stir and build a story.

The urge to travel fuels my writing, and my desire to write stories about many people and cultures urges me to travel. I hope readers get the feeling they are traveling with my characters as the characters take their own physical and emotional journeys.

Tara L. Masih is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (2009) and author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows: Stories (2010). She has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines (including Confrontation, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Natural Bridge, Red River Review, Night Train, and The Caribbean Writer) and several limited edition illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction have been published by The Feral Press. Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations.

Where the Dog Star Never Glows is available at Blackwell UK:

We have one copy of the fantastic Where the Dog Star Never Glows to give away. All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is to leave a comment below. We will choose one person at random, so check in with Strictly on Sunday.


Fionnuala said...

Tara, I found this post truly inspiring. Having just got back from a week in the Alps where I was more interested in the beauty of the mountains and trees, I completely get where you're coming from. In fact, I feel a story coming on! Thanks for the fabulous post.

Karen said...

It's so true what your father told you and a beautiful quote. I find smells very evocative too and have been inspired to write stories after memories and feelings have been triggered by a particular aroma!

Great post :o)

Gillian McDade said...

What a great post, Tara. I can say too that my inspiration comes from travel - the scenery, a person who breezes by in a flash that you will never see again, and the strong aromas of cities. One of my short stories was fuelled by the smell of the hibiscus in Mauritius!

Ellen Brickley said...

That's a really lovely post, Tara, and I'm so glad your father just confirmed something I always suspected!

Also, you've found a way for me to justify spending too much money on travelling. Yay :)

Caroline Green said...

I love your father's message too, Tara. Very inspiring.
It's a very endearing thought to imagine that little girl twirling around and being the queen!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I also found this an inspiring and uplifting post - thank you. I love what your father said, and thoroughly applaud your attitude to filling up your mental bank with beauty and inspiration.

Keith Havers said...

Loved your metaphor of the filing drawer. I've always thought of my mind as a big rubbish tip but yours is much better. I love weaving stories about things that have actually happened. See my blog.

TaraLMasih said...

Thanks, everyone, I'm so glad this was inspiring. Fionnuala, I hope you write that story!

Anushree Prashant said...

Shockingly, I felt the stench of the cremation grounds whirling around me, and the cracks of skulls as they burst in the funeral pyres,as I read about mental file cabinets and I could immediately visualize the orange flames eating loved ones. Yet, images, though black and dark don't quite haunt my mind as much as chance flowers that wave between gravestones.

I agree that good images should and need to be packed into the subconsciuos, but perhaps the synthesis of dark and light helps create a good fusion and unique images too. All my best, Anushree Prashant

TaraLMasih said...

Not to mislead readers with my blog, but my work does tackle some dark subjects. As you say so well, Anushree, having those lighter images allows one to explore the darker ones, and not get mired in them.

Rosalind Adam said...

The notion that images never leave us has touched me this morning in such a way that I want to sit quietly and reassess the files in my mind and archive the less pleasant ones. I feel as if I now have your father's permission to do that.

I hope you don't mind but I would like to use your father's words to initiate a session at a local discussion group that I belong to. It happens to be my turn to introduce the theme and so your blog has proved to be serendipitous. Thank you for the inspiration.

Charlene said...

Thanks for the post. Time to stop watching Law and Order reruns.

kathrynhandley said...

Yes Tara, the images in memory are so important. Setting my novel in my beloved California has allowed me to return to the beauty and complexity of the place, and further enhance in imagination. And then, there's the people, who have passed through our lives, and ultimately help create us characters. Of course, I've bought your book for me and Carolyn, but hey, I'm greedy-send me another.
Again, congratulations on publishing your collection and The Field Guide to Flash Fiction.

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