Finding Inspiration to End the Year

Once the book is closed on 2021, we at M&T will begin in earnest on the production of Issue Twelve. Our authors’ manuscripts have already started trickling in, and Joshua and I are nearly wrapped up with our own article drafts. And once again, the process of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be) has me thinking about inspiration.

I find it almost impossible to write without inspiration. If I’m not fired up about my subject matter, the flow of words freezes up like a winter stream and I find myself doing a lot of staring out the window. Part of that is certainly a lack of discipline on my part – a good writer should be able to thoroughly and methodically outline, expand, and communicate meaningfully on just about any topic. But I have never been all that excited about the methodical approach (maybe that's why I write so ploddingly and inefficiently). Classics such as On Writing Well and Elements of Style are valuable resources, to be sure, especially for the process of tuning up and tightening a piece of work. However, the creative aspect of crafting a beautiful story or argument is difficult to encapsulate within the pages of a reference book, in the same way that you couldn’t learn to paint a masterpiece from a list of guidelines. You might learn the ins and outs of brushes, oils, and complementary colors, but inspiration – passion – is what drives a real work of art. I’m more in the Annie Dillard school of thought when it comes to writing: “A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight… It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control… You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it.” I’m just trying to keep a handle on the thing.

In my mind, some of the best writing I’ve come across is the kind of thing that breaks rules. Books like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which is too bleak to be considered "enjoyable" but uses language in a transfixing, gritty way. Words and sentence structures become part of the desolate landscape being described – you can taste the sand in your mouth as you read, feel it in your teeth. Or think of Tolkien’s verbose but enchanting work, certainly standing in gross violation of at least a few Strunk & White commandments. Tolkien felt that he was a discoverer of the lands he wrote about, rather than their inventor, so his story followed along as he explored a faint path through a beautiful landscape to unknown ends. My own back-burner novel project (which I might even finish someday) has managed to keep me inspired while leading me down a series of fascinating rabbit holes, so who knows? Maybe the end product will be interesting enough that an audience bigger than just my mom (Hi, Mom!) will want to read it.

But I digress – I was talking about writing an article about woodworking. Pretty basic stuff, right? I all but promised Joshua that it would be done by the time we reconvene in January, so I should get back to it. In the meantime, here is a video collection of scenes I shot from our woods the past few days. May you find inspiration here (it is a pretty place) and wherever you are as we look forward to a fresh start in 2022. Happy New Year, everyone!



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