I lost my wedding ring a few weeks ago, and in the process of replacing it I found something I should have found a long time ago: a replica of the One Ring.
You know, the one forged in the heart of Mordor, found by a hobbit, and carried back to Mordor to be destroyed in only the most epic, totally-not-gay-at-all story of a cadre of talented, powerful, sweaty men working together to overcome obstacles and discovering an undying respect for one another despite their racial and cultural differences in the process.
There are two reasons I love owning a replica of this ring. First and foremost, the LOTR series is for all intents and purposes my bible. It’s an enormous book, introduced to me by my father, that I wasted great swathes of my life reading and re-reading and eventually basing my life decisions on (try it sometime: ask yourself, What Would Legolas Do?). Second, having it there on my finger is a great though subtle way to let my geek flag fly basically all the time. Weird, maybe, but I find it brings joy to my life bearing this little symbol, entertaining the foolish hope that somebody will spot it, recognize it, and nod subtly to me from across the room.
As I mentioned before, my dad introduced me to the books, and I discovered the ring just around Father’s Day, so I got him one, too. This past week, we went on vacation, and he lost it.
He lost it in the ocean: he had parked himself on the sand to spend some time watching and playing with my daughter, and stuck his hand into the muddy, flowing surf. When he drew his hand out a moment later, the ring was gone.
We searched frantically for it: digging into the thick sand, filtering it through our fingers. I walked a ways down the beach, hoping to catch it tumbling along in the surf, glinting in the sun. But no avail: the ring was gone.
Dad and I both agreed that losing the ring was sad, but kind of awesome. We pictured another LOTR fan walking along the beach, stumbling upon the ring, and having a quiet conniption as he realized what he held in his hand. (If you’ve seen the movies or read the books, you know that this is how the ring works — it’s sentient, by the way — it presents itself to somebody, uses that person for a while, then leaves that person and finds its way to another bearer on its way back to its Master.)
And this is where I connect this little anecdote back to writing: because that’s how inspiration works, innit? It seizes upon us, lends us its magic for a while, and then it leaves us. Maybe we carry it for a year, maybe for a day, but if we listen, we can feel its power and influence, and we can accomplish great things with it. But one thing you can count on: it won’t last forever. Eventually, it runs its course with us and it goes off to serve another master.
Just as keenly as we feel the creative surge of inspiration’s influence, perhaps we feel even more keenly the gaping wound of its absence when it does move on. On days that inspiration carries you, the road you walk feels smooth and clear, and the wind itself bears you along. On days without, the road is a jagged, barely-there footpath up the side of a wind-blasted mountain. An ever-lengthening expanse of sun-baked desert, all cracked earth and tumbling weeds.
The fortunate thing is that, unlike the One Ring, which serves only one master and cannot be commanded, inspiration is plentiful in the world. There are many rings of power. And just as inspiration can abandon us without warning, it can just as easily and just as quickly fling itself into our path again.
The road to writing, then, is one you have to learn to walk whether you’re carrying the Ring or not. It’s all too easy to say, I only write when the Muse strikes, or I haven’t written lately because I don’t have any good ideas, or I gave up on writing because I just wasn’t inspired, but that’s nonsense. When Frodo and Sam left with the ring, the rest of the Fellowship kept on working toward the goal. They found other things they could do to help in the quest. So must writers keep fighting the good fight, keep putting words on the page, even if they are not feeling the “magic” that inspiration brings.
Blaming inspiration, blaming the muse for lost productivity is tempting, because it’s an excuse that everybody recognizes and accepts. But it’s a lie. Frodo always had it in him to make the great journey, to become a hero; the ring just revealed that potential and set him on the path. The sooner we can realize that the same potential is in us — inspired or not — the sooner we can get on with our own quests, without worrying about being shackled to such a silly thing as “inspiration”.
This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.