By Geo Ong
Part of being a practicing writer is making sure you are always motivated. Inspiration and motivation are two different things but they can often be closely linked. One can feel inspired all the time and never write down a word. Furthermore, inspiration can sometimes be stiffling—have you ever stood in the middle of a bookstore and feel all the names on all the spines of all the books looking down at you?—to the point where it holds a negative effect, and then you never write down a word.
But when motivation enters the picture, the game can change. Do with inspiration what you will, but you almost never have a say when it comes to obeying what drives you. It can seize a primal hold on you, and for however long, it will take you with it and not let go.
Last week I had two productive workshops with friends discussing a short story in progress. My motivation, I thought at the time, was at its peak. But here’s the thing about doing something you love: there are always reasons to love it more.
It seems obvious to state that writing and reading are forever linked, but even a fool like me, a writer and a bookseller, can overlook its limitless importance. During one workshop, my dear friend, possibly doing his best Socrates impression, made a point very clear.
‘Have you read much Raymond Carver?’ he asked.
‘One story, several years ago.’
‘How do you feel about J.D. Salinger’s stories?’
‘I feel nothing, because I’ve never read them.’
I was now starting to feel ridiculous.
‘If you’re gonna be writing short stories,’ he continued, ‘ you better be reading them, too. And that doesn’t mean you have to start writing like them either. You should just know what other people have done and are doing with their stories, and then you can see what you’d like to do with yours.’
He was right, you know. So, like a good friend, he lent me a copy of Salinger’s Nine Stories and sent me on my way. At home, I scrutinised my bookshelf and, to prove my consistency, didn’t find a single short story collection in my possession.
And so, I felt motivated. Three thrift shops, one used bookstore, and one utilization of my employee discount later, I’ve amassed a decent start and what I so fondly call my Short Story Collection Collection.
Geo Ong’s Short Story Collection Collection
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
The World and Other Places by Jeanette Winterson
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
Jump and Other Stories by Nadine Gordimer
Pastoralia by George Saunders
Like Life by Lorrie Moore
Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote
And if that wasn’t motivation enough, I’ve devised a geeky student-revival study approach. (I am, after all, still learning.) Every morning, before I write, I read one story from one of these collections, alternating between books. This particular group of writers differ greatly in style and substance from one another, so my almost instinctive reaction to mimic who I’m reading won’t flare up. Instead I can read these stories with about as much objectivity as I will most likely be able to afford, so I’ll take it.
I share this short tale with you because, for all I know, you could be in need of inspiration, or motivation, or both. Because the thing about both things is that you can get them from anywhere, whether it’s a group of dead writers, a group of living ones, a close friend, or even some dude writing for a blog.