Whenever I talk with a writer, I talk process. How people make art fascinates me. I’m not one of those struggling authors searching for a magic bullet, some tip or secret that another writer’s stumbled on that I too can adopt and so solve all my writing woes. (And I tell ya’, woe is is me when it comes to writing—fiction, anyway.) There is no cure-all other than to keep scribbling, and that’s all process talk boils down to, ultimately: a writer in front of the page, forging ahead word by word, decision by decision. It’s banal. Still, the small details of how each writer moves forward, or back and forth, or laterally, through their work end up being as unique as every author’s personality. It’s those idiosyncracies I love discussing, and believe me, I can talk about the creative process ad nauseum. My wife has a good appetite for this stuff, but on more than one occasion she’s had her full!
I found a kindred spirit in Celia Blue Johnson, who set out to discover how inspiration works in her book Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway: Stories of the Inspiration Behind Great Works of Literature. She weaves lovely little tales about how fifty awesome – and disparate – books came to be. The only thing each creation story has in common is that no author came to their great idea in the same way, and often, it took some amount of trial and error before they struck literary gold. When I interviewed her, she told me:
I found that [even great authors] were very human. … [They] drafted and re-drafted their work. They doubted themselves. They doubted whether their books had merit. Harper Lee, for example, threw her entire manuscript of To Kill A Mockingbird out the window into the snow. Thank God her editor told her to run out and pick it up.
Rebecca Serle’s delightful debut novel When You Were Mine tackles the classic story of Romeo and Juliet from a unique point-of-view: that of Rosaline, Romeo’s first, and then forgotten, crush. When I asked Serle about the inspiration behind such a thought provoking re-imagining of the canonical tale, she surprised me with a very personal response.
I was heartbroken because someone had pulled a Romeo on me. I was over at my best friend’s house, talking about love stories and eating ice cream. We hit on Romeo and Juliet and wondered, ‘Whatever happened to Rosaline?’ Immediately something clicked in my head. I started writing the next day.