• Inspiration From Exasperation

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 3 comments

    One of the curious questions writers are often asked is “What inspires your writing?”

    While many of us like to point to the positive inspiration we’ve received from reading great authors whose books we strive to emulate, I think the truth is sometimes a little less glamorous. I certainly aspire to write as eloquently (and outlandishly) as my literary heroes Leonard Cohen, Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson, but I also know that if I am being completely honest, much of my inspiration comes from life’s little irritations.

    Take, for example, a recent letter I received from my mother-in-law. The gist of it seemed to be that she was unhappy with the card my husband and I had chosen for her birthday, so she sent us a nasty note that lashed out by describing us as failed artists.

    Our relationship is clearly not a close one, and yet the note attempted to attack me on a personal level, even going so far as to suggest that my writing was sub-par. While this sentiment seemed to be based purely on the brief “Happy Birthday!” greeting we’d sent her—as she has never, to my knowledge, read any of my published work—it was still hurtful.

    My first impulse was to crumple the paper and toss it into the recycling. My second was to return the piece to its envelope, mark it “Return to Sender,” and drop it into the nearest mailbox. My third was to sit down and write a reply. After all, can any writer resist the siren song of the poison pen? (See PassiveAggressiveNotes.com for your answer.)

    After careful consideration (read: much argument over whether or not my husband’s mother is, in fact, a douche), my husband and I each retreated to our respective computers and banged out replies. We knew we would never actually send them, but we had to get our words out on paper, to respond in kind and thus get it out of our system. We ripped her a new one, again and again. We read each other’s bon mots and witty retorts to her clumsy accusations. We laughed, we cried, we drank more wine, and we roasted that woman like a celebrity at the Friars Club. We even sought semi-public opinion, scanning the note and circulating it amongst friends.

    It turns out there are a hell of a lot more dysfunctional families out there than we had previously realized, but that’s another blog for another day.

    In the end, we decided to take a friend’s advice and send a short and sweet reply, thanking the sender for her concern (she had opened with a reference to the recent Texas wildfires, which she had heard about on the news), and addressing her rant by saying that she would be the first to know when our respective artistic endeavors became profitable.

    As a writer, I am always concerned with my audience and how to properly address its needs. My mother-in-law was upset that I had not drawn enough “word pictures” (her words, from the letter in question), or included her enough in my life. Certainly I can understand feeling shunned or neglected, but her response was inappropriate. I began to think about which literary characters best represent her instability and passive-aggressive behavior, and realized she’s basically Charles Dickens’ infamous Miss Havisham: a soul crushed in youth by lost love, ultimately turned bitter (and crazy) through years of neglect.

    This is perhaps an over-the-top comparison, as my mother-in-law is not quite sitting in a dusty mansion, wearing her crumbling bridal gown every day of the week, nor yet at the stage of burning the whole house down in rage and despair–but I think the comparison is valid. She’s the type of person who is barbed, who will ask odd and off-putting questions of total strangers, who is simply difficult to be around, much less embrace unconditionally. If I were a Dickensian character, perhaps I could put on my Christian Charity hat and suck it up for a few hours a week reading to her from the Bible.

    Instead, I’ll just write blogs about how she has inspired a new villain in my magnum opus.


    Laura Roberts is the editor of the rebellious literary magazine Black Heart, and a writing coach & manuscript consultant at WriteByNight. You can follow her on Twitter @originaloflaura, or check out her personal website.

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    More family insults please so that we might benefit from more of your fabulous writing.

    David Duhr

    Could not agree with you more, Carolyn.

    Laura Roberts

    OMG, you scared me there, Carolyn! At first I thought you were my mother-in-law, also named Carolyn. But then I remembered she doesn’t even own a computer or possess an email address, so there’s no way she would’ve found this blog. WHEW!

    As for more of my fabulous writing, your wish is my command! You can download a free sample chapter from my forthcoming novel by clicking here: http://eepurl.com/gnd-r

    I mean, while you await more of my hilarious blog posts, of course. ;)

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