Gaither Stewart
Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. After studies at the University of California at Berkeley and other American universities, he settled first in Germany, then in Italy. Following a career in journalism as Italian correspondent for the Rotterdam daily newspaper Algemeen Dagblad and contributor to the press in several European countries, he began writing fiction full-time. He has authored three novels and two short story collections. He has resided in Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Russia and Mexico. Today he lives with his wife, Milena, in the hills of north Rome.

press more information author's site

On Getting Started

Recently I wrote an essay on the subject of inspiration, something on which I for one don’t rely. Or hardly. Or try not to. Though I have to write, as one says so earnestly and oh, so sincerely, it’s nonetheless extremely hard work. Hope as I might and forever contradicting myself, I just can’t believe like the sacred chroniclers in divine inspiration. I don’t believe that the result of the search for a story line, a plot, and an end, merits the highfaluting definition of “inspiration.” I laugh … no, I want to cry when I hear or read of someone waiting around hopefully for inspiration divine. A little bit of spontaneity goes a long way too. As does liberation of the unconscious mind—with my sincere excuses to all Freudians. Oh, there’s nothing like a good strong stream of conscious to liven up a dull morning! I fully agree. One hundred per cent. But just a bit of each. With discretion. With modesty and moderation. Writing is fun? Well, yes, of course it’s fun. I think so anyway. Others feel differently. My wife for example says lovingly permissively once a day that it’s pathological. But still, it’s serious business. For example—ideas! Oh, yes, there’s the question of ideas. But inspiration is something else. A writer friend across town from me down near the old Tiber River says it’s just a question of practice—the more you practice, the easier it comes. For in writing “inspirationally”, patience, persistence and purposefulness are required. Still, it’s well known that pacing the room and looking out windows help. And also eavesdropping on strangers and reading booklets and brochures and watching cartoons or just reading randomly in the Encyclopedia—what wonderful ideas you can find there! Or you hope to retain the mad images of a prophetic dream that can arrive in your nocturnal encounter with death. You’re always on the qui vive for that image, that idea, or for the resurfacing from memory of a forgotten missing element—but certainly a good reading of Dante or Joyce or the Koran are more likely to supply you the ideas that unreliable divinely inspired inspiration sends down so sparingly. And so selectively.

Who does it go to today? the muses or the inspirational gods up there ask each other—having been established that there are several of them dispensing their favors, tips, cues, signs, hints, prompts.

What about to the poet down there in Cafè Flore in front of the stack of saucers to count the absinthes he has consumed searching in their for our little tip?

To the guy there in north Rome, a second muse suggests, the one still standing there near his window waiting so patiently?

Or shall we send it down to the bikinied woman again waiting on the beach on that island in the Caribbean? Hemingway, after all!

Or, another proposes, what about finally something for the old man in Brooklyn?—he has been waiting all these years. So undemanding. He just sits there and waits his turn. So patient too. And he has had so little. Actually nothing! After all! One little suggestion for a moment brief of glory … No, silly, not transcendence! No, nothing like an epiphanic light! Just a teeny weenie peak at something outside himself. Or just an idea! Voilà. At least that.

Skeptically I lie in my bed in the early morning. I turn on the lamp and grab at my notes scribbled in bed the night before, hoping that something or other is legible. Ah! Ah! Yes, lists! Now there’s an idea! Make a list of names. Make a list of colors. Make a list of trees. And no! Don’t forget the moon. Now yesterday’s idea—I repeat—my idea was to show that nothing is something.

Are you nuts?

Well, Sartre did it! And Heidegger did it too.

Yes, but they were philosophers. Just look at your yesterday’s production! Those hackneyed old ideas…! Do you really want to say that? That’s not the way people really think!

Well, some do.

So can you show it?

Show it? Are you teasing me? Listen, forget that crap. You know how I feel about that silly rule. Show, tell, describe, think, intimate, guess, instruct. Anything you want! Politically correct, you say? Oh, for Chrissakes! That stuff again. No thanks. Control my materials? Now what in heaven’s name is that supposed to mean? No rules, please. We’re not talking about science. Like old Nietzsche, I say NO and No and NO.

So get off your butt and get to the writing table then. Just pick up where you left off yesterday. You remember where you were?

Of course I remember. What do you think it is that keeps me awake all night?

Well, get to it.

And ideas?

Oh, the ideas will come. Probably. And if they don’t, then it’s back to Dante or Joyce or the Koran. Or the old scriptures. Then of course there is the off chance—about 10,000 to 1—that they will choose you today for a small shot of inspiration. So I wouldn’t count on it.

Yet, there is one preoccupying matter and it’s this: let’s say during the night or walking the streets or driving in the car you get a brilliant idea—gads! maybe it’s inspiration—and you casually lazily mark it in your mind to be recorded later. You get back to your desk and pick up your pen just to note it, and … and what? You can’t remember! A blank. It had to do with … uhh! You try to reconstruct your thoughts of then, of the moment of inspiration, that is the idea, and … and nothing! But it was something … before the nothing. It’s like reading your own story and wondering if you could ever write it again … from nothing. You can’t even imagine it. Oh, for Chrissakes! What to do? For a moment you even fear for what you are presently writing: If it were lost, how could you ever replace it? For in your memory images and ideas, words and sentences, structures, stories, plots, and even endings are elusive. Crazy but true—they even elude you during the instant between the budding of an idea in your brain and the time it takes to transform it to words.

So I pace the floor a bit. I look out the window at the same flowers and shrubs, hoping my wife doesn’t catch me goofing off and send me to the store or to cut the grass. The same nature is still out there. The car is out front. I take a drink of water. The radio announces an obscure De Falla composition. I shuffle through notes scattered here and there. I look through secret files. I read some old articles.

An idea! I look through the French-German dictionary. At random. P … pouvoir. Curious that they live next to one another, have conquered each other, mixed and mingled forever, and yet the French say pouvoir and the Germans, macht! The Book: To Be A Stranger

I have a coffee. I pace some more. I look out the window again. Where is that frigging inspiration? Just goes to show you truly can’t count on anything anymore.

Grimly and determinedly, hartnäckig obstiné testardo, I go back to yesterday’s text and start a new paragraph.

Something will come today. I hope.

Maybe even inspiration.