Written by Sebastian A. Melmoth
“The composition of a novel,” Margaret Atwood surmised, “may be one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration, but that one part inspiration is essential if the work is to live as art.” Inspiration is an odd fish. Abstract and evasive, it slips through your writerly fingers like mercury, or it fossilizes in the bedrock of your literary embryo. Therefore, cultivating such an elusive thing can be a difficult process, but not an impossible one. There are options — like wading through an endless series of listicles on the task of gaining and sustaining inspiration, promising yourself that you’re not feeding the procrastination demon (self awareness is a virtue).
One deceptively simple solution might be to write what matters to you. Proust called the act of reading “that fertile miracle of communication in the midst of solitude.” As readers, we engage with the private world of the writer, passing through their feelings and perspectives and coming out a bit larger than we were before. I think Leopold Senghor put it well when he wrote: “All art is social.” The intimacy of sharing from the trove of human experience can leave a writer especially vulnerable to the whims of an unknown audience, but can’t the same be said about all writing? After having power over your narrative, you inevitably submit to “the mortifying ordeal of being known.” In fact, the Knowing is the imperative of writing.
Offering the reader a chance to observe your process and make equally insightful reflections is at the heart of all literary transmissions. As our limited scope of the world broadens, our capacity to empathize expands. We become more conscious of situations beyond our immediate purview, and this emotional dilation may in turn lead to the awareness of movements we would otherwise not be familiar with. Whether that’s uncovering the continuum of racism through the fabulism of Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching, or the liminalities of mental illness and Igbo cosmology through Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, we are diversifying our minds.
Diversifying the minds of readers can come at the cost of their comfort, but disturbing the peace is a necessity for change, as Dorothy Allison astutely observed: “let’s be clear about what the peace is. The peace is a kind of silence about the very issues that writers exist to call attention to. It’s so easy to disturb the peace. All you really have to do is tell the truth, and it will disturb and upset people.” Allison is not alone in this consideration. Crime novelist and activist, Ausma Zehanat Khan agrees that the writer’s role is to act as messenger, “allowing us to experience and encompass the humanity of the other, and perhaps to reconsider the beliefs we held fast to before.” When the writer is passionate about their subject and brave enough to write it, their vulnerability seals the bond between the writer and reader.
Even if a reader disagrees with the point of view or trajectory of the book, they may find it difficult to discredit the sincerity of the writer and the impact the work has had on them. However, once we allow ourselves to see another’s perspective and empathize with them, all of our circumscribed assumptions are forever altered by our understanding.
Sebastian A. Melmoth is an editorial and social media intern at Ladderbird. He’s a recent graduate from Alverno College with a degree in History and English Literature. Currently, Sebastian is attempting to relieve some of the Ladderbird workload by contributing to a range of agenting projects.
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