Waiting for Inspiration

By Elizabeth Engstrom

So here I sit, facing the blank page again.

The house is quiet, I’ve had enough coffee, I’m sick of social media. I am ready to write.

But what shall I write? Shall I tune up—yet again—that old broken short story that I’ve messed with for years? Shall I pull from the trash that old novel that I have pulled from the trash several times already and work on it? (Seriously. It’s back in the office closet. It needs to be in the trash.)

Or should I imagine something new, something fresh?  Yes, that’s it. That’s what I’ll do.

But what?

I know what. It’s what I always do, and it works.



Most people will go to the garden, or take a walk, or bake something, or worse, turn on daytime television. Inspiration will rarely come to you when you’re doing something other than sitting at the keyboard. Occasionally, I’ll get inspiration in the shower or on a walk, but that almost always involves a work in progress that has hit a snag.

For the fresh idea, I have to be sitting here, right here, ready to go.

And if nothing comes, if nothing in the past few days has piqued my interest sufficiently, then I begin my 10-minute free writing exercise. Timed. Internal editor off.  I just write whatever comes into my head and through my fingers to the keyboard. Most times it’s drivel. Sometimes there comes a germ of an idea.

At the end of the ten minutes, I stop, take a sip of coffee, read the crap I’ve written and see if there’s a thread there that could be pulled up. Sometimes no, but most times yes. And then I proceed, internal editor activated as usual.

Do these things always end up as stellar short stories or novel-length work that can take up to a year of my life? No. But it keeps the writing and imagination machinery greased and working. And keeping the skills alive is  mandatory.

Not everything I write is publishable—far from it—but if the ratio is 90%/10%, then I best be getting on with that 90% of unpublishable stuff so I can get to the good stuff.

I get up in the morning, and I go to work, like everybody else. I don’t wait for inspiration.  I can’t afford to.

Sometimes I have to go hunt it down.

My Hero’s Journey between the Coffee Pot and the Keyboard

Eric M. Witchey

Every writer is at one point or another exposed to these two things: Joseph Campbell and resistance to writing. Is it surprising at all that instead of actually writing fiction I’m scribbling about two concepts I wrestle with every day? After all, isn’t talking about doing something very nearly the same as doing it?

My World of the Everyday

This morning, the alarm didn’t go off.

I should be so lucky that I sleep until my alarm actually goes off.

You see, in my tribe of one, I’m dissatisfied with my world. My restlessness gives me fitful dreams and early mornings.

Ah, but there are good things, things that represent home and hearth to me. One is my morning cup of steaming, Italian Dark Roast espresso. In spite of my dissatisfaction with my lot amid the familiar things of life in my small village, I take pleasure in my skill in grinding, measuring, pouring, boiling, filtering, smelling, and sipping my dark elixir.

I lift my mug to lips, savoring the aroma and anticipating my first sip.

The Call to Action

Then, up in my bedroom, the Marvin the Martian spaceship alarm clock explodes into its 90 decibel, digital simulation of lift-off.

My promise to myself is that today I will move beyond my own boundaries, failed attempts at eloquence, and cyclic, self-defeating thoughts. Today, I will leave my village of one and enter the dark woods of creativity where none but those who dare to venture forth know what might await.

I gulp down my magic elixir, forgetting to savor because I’m already seeing the future greatness that shall be me once I leave this wretched village and pen a deathless tome.

Resisting the Call

But first, I’ll clean the kitchen, which amounts to resisting the call, which is never, ever a good idea. Everyone knows that resisting the call means immediate deterioration. I know it. I do it anyway. I wet the sponge. I swipe at the counters. I sweep the floor. I face the crud-caked microwave.

The clock on the microwave counts f***ing seconds. Seconds! Who the hell needs to know what time it is to the f***ing second?

Apparently, Mennonites think I do. I don’t know any Mennonites, but they know me. Mennonites. Minions. Is it coincidence that I think of dark Sunday coats and muse on the idea that the two words could be modified slightly to make them near rhymes?

I think not! There is darkness in the world.

I can feel my coffee buzz rising to a crescendo as I wipe away last night’s bean and bacon soup explosion from the inside of the microwave. By the time I’m done, my buzz is fading. The self-loathing is growing. The clock is counting the seconds of my mortality off with annoying precision in digital block numbers that remind me that I’m dissatisfied with the tribe of one and its limitations. I must take action if I want to stop my own deterioration.

The Wise One and Magical Potions

Memory, ghostly and strange, brings me the voice of the sister-in-law I once rented a room from, who tells me in her most wise, sepulchral Japanese voice, “Go, Eric! Go! Only doing gets it done!”

Spurred on by my memory of the wise one, I make a new cup of coffee and head for the archway into the hall that leads through the shadowy back of the house and toward the…

Threshold Guardian

The sphinx holds the archway, blocking my path to my path.

Okay, not so much a sphinx as a pug-sized, 14 year-old mutt of mixed origins, profound deafness, near blindness, and extreme wobbliness. I try to step past, but he senses me and stumbles to the side, placing his frail, pathetic body nearly under my foot.

Very clever.

He knows that every writer knows that you can’t hurt the dog.

Catching myself, and protecting the newly brewed elixir I carry from sloshing over onto the frail guardian and my village’s symbolically overloaded now-soiled-but-once-upon-a-time white carpet, I step back into the kitchen and ponder the guardian and how to vanquish it.

My life reading mythopoeic tales is not wasted. The answer comes to me as if by magic. Guess its name.

That often does the trick. I’ll start with an invocation. “Thy name is Zeke,” I say.

No response.

I pull out the big gun magic word. “Tuna?

Ah, now I have his attention. I have answered his riddle before it has been asked.

Did I say he’s really, really old in dog years? As if to warn me of terrible things to come, he squats like a little girl dog and pees, further soiling the symbolically overloaded carpet.

Tuna, indeed! In my mental notebook of vanquishing spells, I make a notation. Do not overexcite the frail threshold guardian.

I clean the carpet and feed the guardian, thus vanquishing him and learning that beyond the archway await trials and tribulations too terrible for him to speak.

The Dark Woods and Learning the New Rules

Stepping over the wet spot, I enter the dark dinning nook.

There, I must pass traps set by minions—or perhaps Minionites. Who can say what true Minioinite-owned parent corporation controls the Time Magazine left open on the dining room altar? Like a siren’s song, pretty pictures beckon. Jennifer Aniston got a haircut. Jeff Bezos now owns the Washington Post. A drone killed someone who was not in the NSA skimming through this blog to find out what I’m up to.

Foul spell! Evil tempter! Archaic media format! Begone. Leave me be! Leave me be!

I shake off the darkness that settles slowly over those who read news before writing fiction. I sip my elixir of clarity and motivation, and I consider returning to the kitchen to let the Mennonites reheat the elixir to a reasonable temperature for quaffing.

The Minionites nearly had me, but my encounter with my first trial has made me wiser, stronger.

Staggering away from the breakfast nook, I set my course for the stairs on the other side of the living room.

Yes. If I can make it to the stairs, I may be able to rise above the trials of the shadowy living room, move beyond the soul-tugging shelves of books I have collected but never read, slip around the sudden, mystical need to dust tchotchkes and alphabetize by author.

My elixir is nearly gone, but it has served me well. I swallow the last. I am now alone with myself—with whatever innate powers I was born to and whatever knowledge I have gained along the way.

Encounter with the Minionites

The Minionites call my name.

No, it’s my ringtone. My cell phone is in the bathroom off the short hall at the bottom of the stairs.

I had not considered that the Minionites might be in league with the evil Japanese wizard Sam Sung, a Galaxy III class wizard and master of many apps to beguile me. Who could think of such a union until confronted with it? Who could resist the need to silence Sam’s call? Braver souls than mine have succumbed to the subtle, insidious mental magic and answered the call—lifted, poked, then stared at a fixed point while ignoring all around them. The Lotus Eaters themselves would have risen from their bowers of bliss to answer.

But I have learned! I have grown! I have voicemail!

Ha, Minionites! Ha! I bite my thumb at thee, Sam Sung! Fie, I say! Fie!

The stairs are mine!

Confronting a Lieutenant of the Evil One

I rise upward toward the land wherein the grail hath been hid. There, a framed gateway pours forth beams of ultraviolet, spectrum-adjusted, high luminosity seasonal affective disorder busting brilliance. Just beyond resides The Oak Roll Top Altar of Creation and the rune-etched keyboard through which I will cast my spells upon the hearts and minds of the needful.

I rise and press forward, ever watchful for an attack I feel must come, a…

A spider!

Huge and hairy and spindly-legged, it dangles from the doorframe, challenging me, testing me. This is no mere apparition or household pest. No, clearly the UV, spectrum-adjusted sparkling of its many, many-faceted eyes reveals the true magical nature of the vile beast. This is more than a Minionite! This is more than a guardian! This is a confidant, a true loyal to the desires of the darkness that I now know is named Sam Sung.

It beckons. I can almost hear its Vincent Price voice call to me, “Embrace me! Do battle with me! Show me what it is that makes my master tremble so when your name is spoken.”

The trick here is suddenly clear to me. Battle joined, I would no doubt win. I have size and speed and hard-earned tools. The empty elixir mug alone would be enough to end the existence of this creature, but there is more at stake here than vanquishing a foe.

As with all moments, I live in this moment. It will define me. My actions will name me truly hero or merely another of the many who have fallen to violent impulse and selfish desires.

“No, lieutenant of darkness, I will not fight. I will not raise my hand against thee. My quarrel is not with you, nor is yours with me.”

“Fight, Coward!” He drops to the floor and scuttles, fangs raised, toward my feet.

“I am not like you or your dark lord! I embrace the UV, spectrum-adjusted, mood altering light and will not fall into the shadows from whence you came!”

I choose my action and define myself. I do not kill. I do not capture and release outside. I step over the spider, humiliating him with my demonstration of his irrelevance. I have stepped past the last obstacle.

The Final Confrontation

Into the glow—into the embrace of light, I pass. To the altar of imagination and self-expression, I step. Into the throne, I settle. Incantations and careful hand passes of mystic power bring The Oak Roll Top Altar of Creation to life.

But Sam Sung knows of my victory over his minionites and his lieutenant. He marshals all his powers against me.

His evil corrupts even the altar of creation.

Allison wants to be my special friend, wants me to chat, to share naughty secrets, perhaps to meet and see what comes of it.

Minionite! Begone! Route thee to the garbage files!

Blue pill promises potency beyond my wildest dreams (and hers—probably Allison).

Get thee to Allison’s house!

Sam Sung himself promises me new power, power beyond my dreams, beyond his Galaxy III mastery. I, humble villager that I am, can have Galaxy IV power if only I will click here.

One click.

Only one, and the world will be mine!


I have seen this ruse before—and before, and before, and before. My life has brought me along a twisted path through dark rooms to this moment, and I deny thee and all thy Minionites, Sam Sung!

Not local Milf, nor magic app, nor promise of great power, and not even your offer of great wealth if only I will help you move funds from your Nigerian accounts will stop me this day.

I rebuke thee! NO, I say! Thrice, I say, NO!

Deep within, I find a spark, a need, a moment of purest hope. With all my tested spirit, I fan that spark. I feed it my dreams and nurture it with my hopes. I open a blank file of purest potential, and I place my fingers upon the rune-etched keys.

The Grail is Found!

Free, healed, and in the moment to which I was destined to come, I give my triumph back to the world. I type, “It was a dark and…”


IFD Publishing has just released one of my science fiction novelettes. It’s a scifi romance that proves that even crazy people can make long distance love work. Beware the Boojum is currently available for 99 cents at your favorite ebook outlet. Enjoy, and remember to review.

Amazon: Bewared the Boojum

Barnes & Noble: Beware the Boojum