There’s no “I” in inspiration… wait, what?

There I was, all set to give you a little piece on short story writing.

Then I went and saw ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA, aka The Tour De Frank.


Now, I know Frank Zappa is an acquired taste.

But I’m not here to talk about the music specifically.


See, I’ve seen some shows in my time. Probably more than most normal people. And I’ve seen some great ones…

Springsteen and the E Street band; U2; The Rolling Stones; Prince (during the Purple Rain tour); The Cure; Level 42; Billy Joel; Elton John; Van Halen (before they went crazy); Phish; Oingo Boingo; Eric Clapton; the Flaming Lips; Lucinda Williams; Pink Floyd; Santana; Miles Davis; Moby; Etta James; Big Head Todd & The Monsters; David Bowie; Bob Dylan; Elvis Costello; Neil Young; Cheap Trick; the Police; the Kinks; the B-52’s; the Pixies; the Scorpions; Steve Earle; Red Hot Chili Peppers; Tom Waits; Steely Dan; Garth Brooks; Ice-T; REM; Indigo Girls; KISS; BB King; The  Mats (Replacements); and many more.

I list all that so you have the context of what I’m about to say…

Zappa Plays Zappa was the single best show I’ve ever seen.

Dweezil Zappa leads an incredibly talented band that includes "guest" performances by Steve Vai and Terry Bosio. Side note: those of you that think the world’s greatest drummer had the last name of Peart or Bonham or Rich…nuh, uh. It’s Bosio. Trust me. 

What the hell does this have to do with writing? I’m getting there.

Talking with Dweezil after the show, I learned the band was smack in the middle of a 23-city tour. It was their 5th show in five nights,
in the 5th different city. A three hour (yes, three hours) extravaganza
of sound and energy, performing some of the most complex rock music
ever written. But their energy and commitment was so high, so intense,
you’d have thought it was the opening night of the tour.

He talked about how hard it was – not just the touring, but getting the music right, the politics of each venue (wow, is the musician’s union a tough bunch!), and being away from friends and family. Cap all this with the fact that the tour is not sponsored. Dweezil funded getting the thing started, and it has been grassroots since – making enough money one place to afford to go and play another place.

Those that know me, or used to read my Bog (RIP), know how important music is to me and my writing. Probably 75% of my inspiration comes from music, in one way or another. And yes, as I sat there watching this great, great show, I was inspired.

But I was even more inspired when I spoke to Dweezil after the show and he talked about what a difficult thing it is he and the others are doing. But he’s doing it for the love. To expose new generations to his father’s music. To become better himself, by learning to play the music exactly as his father did; to honor his father; to give back.

Steve Vai, possibly the greatest living guitar virtuoso, started with Frank Zappa, and was so excited about the idea of joining this tour he cut his own (very profitable) G-3 tour short. Terry Bosio and Napoleon Murphy Brock basically came out of retirement to go on the road for very little money.

This time, not just from the music itself, but I am truly inspired by these artists and their passion, their dedication. It’s similar to why I love sitting around talking shop with other writers. Sure, it’s fun to sit and dish at conferences – don’t lie that you don’t do it – but my favorite thing about going to a place, anyplace, where writers are gathered is to get inspired. I get inspired by some because of their talent, by others’ discipline, others by their passion and commitment.

What inspires you? Music? Passion? Booze? Mike MacLean’s thighs? Tell me.


And, as always: Floyd Landis is innocent. if anyone knows an investigative journlaist looking for a story to make them famous, please send them here.

33 thoughts on “There’s no “I” in inspiration… wait, what?

  1. David Montgomery

    But did you see Sinatra?

    As for what inspires my writing… The single greatest motivation for me to finish my book wasn’t trouncing Guyot in The Bet — it was the fact that my wife kept pestering me to read it. She read the first few chapters early on and then wouldn’t let me rest until I finished the whole thing. I doubt I’d have completed it if it weren’t for her.

  2. Mark Terry

    For a second there I thought you were going to announce:

    So I’m giving up writing and joining Dweezil as a backup singer.

    Anyway, I’m inspired all the time by other writers (not just their deals, which can be both inspiring and debilitating). I recently re-read JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and was struck anew on how encompassing the world she creates is, how you want to stay in that world when you’re there, part of her gift, I think.

    I read Paul Levine and think how light and sparkling his stories are, how entertaining.

    Read John Ramsey Miller and think how textured, how eloquent, how deep the characterizations are without really slowing the story down.

    Read Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston and think how well they take us from the real to the fanciful without even breathing hard.

    That’s all. All I have to do is read other writers.

    Oh, and check out my Visa bill. That often inspires me to get back to work.


  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oooh, jealous!!! So Jealous!!!

    “What inspires you? Music? Passion? Booze? Mike MacLean’s thighs?.”

    Music, definitely. So much writing comes out of music, either listening, singing, or dancing. A really good concert is good for years of ideas… I’m still writing stuff based on the way Richard Butler smoked a cigarette on stage one night…

    Passion – well, yes… but as someone (here?) said recently, men can also be distracting. Also can cause psychotic breaks.

    Booze – I like it but I wouldn’t call it inspiring, though once in a while it’s nice to write when I’m ripped.

    MacLean’s thighs… haven’t met them yet, but I’m looking forward to it. Hmm… that came out wrong….

    You are so right that conventions are inspiring – they really keep me going. Film fests like Sundance, too. Any place artists gather. Any great piece of art. Museums. Good times with friends. Travel. Hiking. Rafting. Large bodies of water. A view for miles. A good talk with a stranger.

    What a great topic! This is going to be a fun day. I may not get any WRITING done, but at least I’ll be inspired.

  4. JT Ellison

    I wanna be a Crew Slut…

    Talk about creativity and inspiration, look at some of his song titles. The man was a genuis, no doubt. So cool that Dweezil is following in his Daddy’s footsteps.

    Seriously, I think Alex has hit it for me. I find it everywhere and anywhere — music, people, books, art — just being.

    Though a nice clip of Berlioz and a smooth Bordeaux doesn’t go amiss every once in a while.

    Great topic, G.

  5. spyscribbler

    I’ll third music, and throw in art and movies. Other books, too, but that’s a given. Oh! People, too. Life is just one big research project for my next story.

    I can’t listen to music while I write, though. If I listen to music, I listen to music. I don’t read in the background, so how in the world could I listen to music in the background???

  6. Stephen Blackmoore

    Music’s an inspiration, certainly, but really on par with most anything else for me.

    The thing that really keeps me going though, is being around passionate people. Not just other writers talking shop, but people who are doing things they believe in. Artists, poets, politicians even. People making their passions happen.

    That’s the kind of energy I need to be around and the kind of energy I hope I can bring to other people, too. What do you want to do? How can we make it happen?

    That’s what gets me going and gets me to sit down at the keyboard and ignore my horrendous prose.

    Well, that and my fantasies of all those large breasted writerly groupies.

  7. Louise Ure

    You said, “I get inspired by some because of their talent, by others’ discipline, others by their passion and commitment.”

    Sometimes those same things just make me jealous.

    Now, as to Mike’s thighs, however …

  8. Raymond Benson

    I, too, saw Zappa Plays Zappa and was blown away. But I didn’t expect anything less, being a Zappa fan all my life. Dweezil and the band did his daddy proud. It was truly inspiring and, yes, it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, too.

    I always listen to music when I write. And it usually can be any type– from instrumental film soundtracks to jazz to progressive rock to, yes, even Zappa. Lyrics don’t bother me (some writers listen only to instrumental stuff when they’re working). The music gives me a good vibe and energy.

    Little known fact– when I was writing my Bond novels, many times I was listening to an underground British psychedelic band called Ozric Tentacles. Go figure.


  9. billie

    In no particular order:

    the fine arts

    a compelling film

    novels that pull me in and won’t let go

    music (sometimes one tiny riff that seems to tell an entire story all on its own)

    good food

    stimulating conversation

    the way light plays through windows/leaves/bare tree branches

    a good ride on my dressage horse

    the soft snorting of my horses in their stalls on a cold night

    and, for some odd reason, this week I am tantalized by the thought of a pomegranate martini – have never had one, never wanted one, but the thought of having one is inspiring..!


  10. Elaine Flinn

    Creating people I’d like to know – and people I’d like to eliminate does it for me. 🙂

    Seriously – it’s all about creating a story that others might enjoy. As for the music connection – definitely an important element – but it has to be jazz. Keiko Matsui is generally my muse. Although ‘Take Five’ by Brubeck is my major inspiration when when the words won’t come together.

    Sinatra? I love that Dave! Yep – he was the master showman – but did you ever see Anthony Newley? Incomprable.

    Terrific post, Guyot. As usual.

  11. JLW

    I TOLD you the American Federation of Musicians was tough, albeit in a completlely separate context. You remember. Something about a guy walking out on a gig . . . ?

    I am a gentleman and a gentleman never kisses and tells. (Guyot is lying about the shower curtain and the Mazola wrestling in Chicago.) So even if love and sex DID inspire me, I wouldn’t talk about it. But as it happens, I think of love and sex as their own rewards and not as inspirations. Not like music.

    I love music, God knows–I went to a conservatory for two years (they wisely tossed me out) and was one of the legendary L.A. Tower Records Classical Guys for quite a while. Music inspires me–but music does not make me want to write. It makes me want to play. And after playing, boy am I hungry.

    I love food. Along with most doughy white guys, I indulge much too freely in the culinary riches of our culture, because as Poul Anderson put in the mouth of Sir Dominic Flandry, what’s the point of belonging to a decadent culture if you can’t indulge in it a little? And we have way too much food in America than is good for us. But even so, all food makes me want to do is eat, and afterwards, sleep, perchance to dream.

    I love to dream. Sometimes a dream will give me an idea for a story, but mainly it sevres as a release valve from the ennui of daily existence. I understand a lot of people escape from the ennui of daily existence through drink.

    I love booze. But you won’t see me with any pomegranite martinis–a martini has gin and vermouth in it, with a splash of bitters and an olive on a toothpick. A vodka martini isn’t even a real martini, no matter what Ray B. says. And if something has pomegranites in it, it is categorically not even related to a martini. But booze doesn’t inspire me–it just makes me want to talk.

    I love to talk, but it only makes me want to write if I’m in a discussion about writing, as the sound of my own voice is so soothing and pleasant, and my comments so witty and wise, especially if I’ve been at the bar with some guy like Guyot for some hours matching me one for one, that I prefer simply to go on talking.

    I have to hunt for inspiration. I can’t wait for it to smack me upside my head when I least expect it, although that does sometimes happen. I have no problem feeling deeply, especially around great art or sublime natural beauty, but that’s not the same thing as being inspired. You can feel deeply without having that spark to do something about it.

    So I read.

    That’s it.

    I read literature, history, science, dictionaries, essays, encyclopedias, and on and on and on. And somewhere along the line a story begins to coalesce out of phrases, facts, and phantasmagorias.

    Well, I prevaricate, because there is one other major thing I find inspiring, actually, and it’s a biggy: there is nothing, absolutely NOTHING, that inspires me more than getting a check for a story. I am not joking.

  12. JLW

    I observe that although my voice is spellbinding, I cannot spell. A pomegranate is not a species of granular crystalline rock consisting essentially of quartz, orthoclase-feldspar, and mica, as I spelled it. Twice.

    Billie, I writhe at your feet in a frenzy of self-abasement.

  13. JLW

    Ahem. I notice that the only PHARTS members on this page so far are EE, Guyot, Snyder, and me.

    If any of the rest of you are really serious about writing, especially you famous guys, then you should already know that inspiration in writing is actually for AMATEURS. True writers–hacks like us–only need EXCUSES.

    To join, visit and follow the link to the membership application. Otherwise, the terr–I mean, Lee Goldberg and IAMTW, win.

  14. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, hell. Do I dare try to add to the banter betwixt JLW & Guyot?

    Inspiration: Kirsty McColl, Jane Siberry, being around creative people who are jazzed by their work and ideas, discovery, whipped cream, scotch, Guinness, travel, my husband’s scowl when he pays bills . . .

  15. Guyot

    Attention everyone!

    We’ve finally gotten Pari to cross over to the dark and noir side…

    She’s talking about whipped cream, hard liquor and her husband scowling!!!

  16. Mel

    I don’t know Pari but I’m with her on the whipped cream. I’m additionally inspired by people living their dreams, the view of SF from the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day (um…from the inside, not the edge), and sexy writers with silent Ts in their last name…and I’m not being conceited!

  17. Mike MacLean

    What the hell? How did my thighs get involved in this? And what’s this about Pari and whipped cream and hard liquor?

    Great writers alternately inspire and depress me. Sometimes I’ll read a passage from a James Lee Burke novel and I’ll want to chuck my computer out the window. What’s the point of hitting the keys when a man like that walks the earth? How can I compete?

    This might sound dickish, but bad writers also inspire me. If they can get their names on a cover, why can’t I?

    Sweat and pain and sidekicks to the gut inspire me. Humbled by the grace and strength of others in my Ja-Shin-Do class and surprised by my own, even after all these years.

    The Clash, Nine Inch Nails, and Cake inspire me.

    And last but not least, my beautiful wife inspires me. (Made some points with that one, eh? Crap, did I just ruin it with that last comment? F’n A!)

  18. JLW

    In mt list of PHARTS members, I left out Mark Terry. Sorry Mark. As recompense, I will give you a five cent discount on your IOU.

    And JT just joined.

    I’m waiting for the rest of you.


    Mike, ALL of the ‘Rati have legendary thighs, or so I’ve heard.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *