The Importance of Being Inspired & the Elizabeth Berg Event

Today, coming off a wonderful talk last night by New York Times Bestselling author Elizabeth Berg, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of being inspired.

I am not speaking of the kind of inspired that comes when you actually are at your computer/typewriter/notebook and magical stuff pours out of you onto the screen/page. What I mean in this case is being inspired by other writers, books, and the literary community in general. Being inspired in your life.

As a public library employee, I get to be surrounded by books all the time. How lucky am I?? I see the best of the best, the prettiest of the pretty, the newest of the new, the shiny, the beloved, the sought-after, the bestsellers, the trendy, the classics, the ones we love to hate. I see books that inspire me by their gorgeous covers, by the titles, the descriptions. I flip open books to the back to read author acknowledgment pages, to remind me that they are indeed human, and not these God-like creatures I tend to worship (and I even am an author! Why do I forget that they are just people?), and I add more and more to my “to be read” list for checking out at a later date, or, on many days, I walk out of work with my purse overflowing with books, and my arms aching. Just doing my job inspires me every day, because I get to see, feel, and think about great works. I think of new ideas all the time. I get envious, wonderfully so, over books I pick up. When I think, Ahh! Why didn’t I write this book, first? I already feel a kinship with that author and that work.

Besides being at a library as an employee, I get to go to events and partake in library services as a patron. For FREE! (I promise to write more about why I love public libraries, so much, but if you can’t tell already here, I do. And that post is coming). A fellow writer and friend told me about author Elizabeth Berg’s upcoming appearance a few months ago. I registered for her workshop/lecture, and began noticing the influx of Berg books coming through the library in anticipation of the event, each looked better than the next. I already owned, and recently read The Last Time I Saw You, but I have already added many of her (over 20!) books to my TBR list. Dream Lover is up after I enjoy Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing Time, which I had autographed last night. But back to the event. I was nervous, and excited. I was ready to be inspired.

Elizabeth Berg was lovely. She was warm, funny, and insightful. She spoke about the importance of dialogue, setting, and character. She talked about taking time to notice things. Look at people from head to toe. Look at rooms from floor to ceiling. She said we all need to tune in to the world around us, “let your whimsy kick in” and ask ourselves what things remind us of. She spoke a bit about her own experiences with writing and publishing, and gave excellent advice for the many writers in the crowd (of some 80-ish people). I even asked a question- how could I pass up personal advice from a great writer?!- wanting her take on abandoning partially-written novels if you have lost the passion on them. She smiled, and said a lot of the time, that means a break-through is right around the corner. She said even if I want to throw it out, or give up on it (I’m looking at you NANOWRIMO 2012), that I shouldn’t literally throw it out, or burn it, or delete it. That I might be able to salvage parts of it. Excellent advice. But you know what was almost the best part?

It was that I recognized a part of myself in her. This successful, well-known, written more than TWENTY BOOKS author. I recognized a similar style in writing. A plotter, she is not.  I recognized the joy in writing in more than one genre. I recognized something in her that gave me hope that I can sustain a career in this sometimes difficult, but always wonderful, world of writing. I saw her speaking, and thought, I could be on that side in the future. I am still starting out. I am still a beginner. I still recognize, and cringe, at the newbie mistakes in my early writing, in my debut novel, as proud of it as I am. I still see so much I’d change. I still think, I can do better. I will do better. I have greatness inside me. I still think, and hope all this to be true. Seeing this author speak, when I had just a glimpse of myself as a writer in her, was more than inspiring.

I was strangely nervous walking up to the table to see Elizabeth. I was sweating. I got both my books signed, and my co-worker who had set up the event, said to Elizabeth that she had just finished my book and loved it (aw, thanks!), and I stammered out that yes, it was published last year. I mentioned to her that I am looking forward to reading her short stories, and aren’t short stories just underappreciated in general, and why is that? And she agreed! I then, like a total nerd, asked for a picture, and she said yes. So cool.

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(Plus, look! We both like long necklaces!)

I left the event with a few favorite new poems (including this one), a list of more novels to read, a reminder to myself to read her short story collections (because you know I love those!), a page of notes I’d scribbled as she spoke, and a fluttering, high-energy feeling. I recognized it. It is the same feeling I’ve had upon leaving particularly great critique group meetings, or writing conferences. If you’ve had it, you know exactly what I mean. It’s this excited, happy energy, inspiration-overload feeling. But in a good way, overload. It made me want to go home and WRITE. To paint. To dream. It was me connecting, not just with that author, but with a whole group of strangers (mostly), who wanted that same feeling. To create. To take what is inside us, and put it outside.

That got me thinking that this feeling is really something that needs to be experienced more often. This public event was free, as stated above. And it’s not difficult to find other events like it. My library hosts author book discussions once a month. There’s a free writers group there. And another within the community. There’s poetry and storytelling night tomorrow. There’s writers conferences in my state, at least three of them every year. There’s so many opportunities to connect with other creative thinkers.

Now, I don’t downplay the importance of internet communities. I have many e-friends, both writing, and not, who are FREAKING AMAZING. I leave conversations online, feeling energized and excited. But. And I say this gently, getting a creative inspiration in person is rarer (for me, at least), and again, for me, more powerful. I can look at a painting online, and fall in love with it. But being in an art museum, standing 6 inches from something great, is truly awe-inspiring. That’s why it’s important to try to make some kind of connection “in real life” as internet-savvy people say. As in, your physical world. Go to museums, join writing groups, go to a poetry reading. If you’re too nervous to read, just listen. Go see live music. GO TO YOUR LIBRARY! Look at the events calendar. If there’s nothing like the events I mentioned before, ask to start your own. For a minimal fee, or more likely free, you can start groups at your library. Put an ad in your newspaper, or start a group on Facebook that will meet IRL. Be it writing groups, or a book club, or anything creative. It’s amazing how like a battery charge, you will feel rejuvenated after these things. And that will reflect and manifest in your writing.

Tell me, when’s the last time you had that wonderful, inspiring feeling from a writer (or artist or anything) around you? Do you have any ideas for more creative inspiration?

For more on Elizabeth Berg visit her website.

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