I responded, "Yes, I have. 95% of what I write is junk or average. But that other 5% is why I keep writing."
The percentage of these moments compared to the amount of time spent writing is drastically small (as noted in my response to my friend), but these are the moments that make us continue to write, paint, create music, sculpt, act, whatever our creative outlets happen to be.
This exchange made me wonder about the best writing moments I have had. Some of these did not result in my best work, those perfectly crystalline phrases that make you want to scream, "Hey Everybody!! I just wrote an amazing line. Everyone needs to read this! Or listen to me read them the line," causing you to then run downstairs to find your spouse or significant other and tell them the line, but then remember that they just had a hard day at work and are sitting on the sofa wrist-deep in a carton of ice cream so you move on to your kids, but they'll just look at you as if you had three heads, and the context of the brilliant line might not be appropriate for them, or maybe they're not around, off playing with their friends, or at dance or band practice, or off with their own significant others and so you run outside, run up the street stumbling across pedestrians, mailmen, dogs, and you try to read them the line, looking for affirmation of your brilliance, but they also probably don't understand the import of what you wrote, and at this point your focus has shifted to finding people and not on the words themselves but you need to tell someone so you decide upon the only place where people would appreciate this: the library! And you sprint into the library only to find that they don't like screaming in there, so you might as well go back to your typewriter, sheaf of paper, computer and continue writing.
Those types of lines were not created in these greatest writing moments. Instead these are the moments of creativity where you feel this is what you should be doing, where you immerse yourself into the flow of creativity, when your mind and will merge into one intention: to create. They are also not in any discernible order.
1. During my senior year of undergrad, I was taking two courses--Sports in Literature, Children's/Young Adult Literature--with the same professor. The final paper for each class required us to write a story within each genre. I asked if I could consolidate the assignments and write one story for both classes.
On a Friday night, both my roommates away for the weekend, I stayed in and decided to write the paper. I lay on my bed tossing a ball in the air, each errant throw bouncing off the wall, sometimes falling behind the bed as I lunged, missing the catch, juggling ideas for how to write a story that could fit within the sports literature and the adolescent literature genres, and make it something I would enjoy writing. Then I had it!
I wrote for four hours straight on my electronic word processor: it allowed 6500 character spaces before the draft had to be printed and deleted. I printed out nearly five pages of single-spaced brilliance (everything you write between the ages 0f 18 and 21 is brilliant!) and continued with the story. About an hour later I stopped writing mid-sentence, stumped on one word, the perfect word for that thought, that sentence. I took advantage of this momentary mental respite to make dinner. While I stirred the boiling water, the word came to me. I went to my room and continued typing until I remembered the boiling water on the stove. What had been a full pot of boiling water was now less than an inch, smoke evaporating into the stove lights. I turned the water off and finished the story.
I submitted this as a first and only draft. About a week later, I saw my professor. He asked me why I did not submit this story for the campus-wide writing contest. The deadline for the contest had already passed before I wrote the story, I told him. "I was the primary judge for that contest. This would have won hands down." "I didn't know that," I said. "And the deadline had already gone by." "I would have allowed it." "Oh. Thank you. I didn't know."
I have since revisited this piece and had it reviewed at a workshop a few years back. I will one day revisit it again, incorporating some of the suggestions made in that workshop. However much this story may improve, the finished version will not match the flurry of creativity I felt that Friday night in my apartment when I wrote the first draft.
2. About a year ago I was sitting in my apartment and realized I needed to get out of the house and write. My environment was becoming distracting. Each time I would start writing I would look to my right at the books on my bookshelf that needed to be read; I would minimize my word document and check my email accounts obsessively; I would internally lament that of the 800+ CDs I had on the left wall, none seemed to provide the proper writing soundtrack. I needed to manufacture accountability, and my comforts and hobbies were trapping me, preventing me from being accountable to my writing and myself.
I went to the library. I was working on a story in which one of the plots regards the nature of luck and superstition. Specifically, I was working on a scene where the main character, after purchasing what he hopes will be a couple of bags of lucky marbles at a toy store as a boy, gives up on all superstition and lucky trinkets and baubles. I found a table upstairs and began writing. Upon finishing the scene, I looked to the bookshelves to my left. There on the metal shelves stood books on toys, crafts, hobbies, games, including a few on marbles. I hadn't noticed them when I entered the room: I had just seen an empty table in a quiet section of the library. Subconsciously, I must have noticed and my surroundings made their way into my story.
3. A month after the serendipitous marble scene, I went to New York City for a few days for research. I needed to roam the streets of the city for a novella that took place here.
I went to the New York Public Library, one of the favorite places on all of the planet. (The reasoning for my love of the NYPL will be a future post: if I listed my reasons now it would detract from this post.) I found one of the open study rooms. Surrounded by walls of old law books, ceiling painted like a Sistine Chapel, I plugged in my laptop and began writing. With scores of students, teachers, researchers, tour groups milling about, poring over books and laptops I found an accountability in my anonymity. If any of these people did not see me writing, then why was I here? Over the course of a few days, I created a scene in the novella that has since required very little revision, a defining moment in the description of a character, where the character's grip on her piety and faith is so tight and unyielding it threatens to undermine and destroy all her other relationships.
The novella has a little ways to go before it's complete, but at that moment in the NYPL something clicked within me in the writing of that one scene.
I have had other "Eureka!" moments in writing but these are the ones that particularly stand out. Without this inspiration, the finished product will never have a chance of becoming reality.
Now that I have shared some of my greatest moments of writing inspiration, I throw this question out to you: what have been some of your greatest writing or creative moments? You don't need to be a writer. You could be a cook, a painter, a graphic designer, a maker of scrapbooks, seamstress, horse rider, baseball player, geologist. Feel free to share.