Inspiration’s a funny thing…

It’s a question authors get asked a lot: where does your inspiration come from?

Some writers have profound or witty answers, but most (including me) struggle to articulate how ideas arise. More to the point, we actually don’t want to analyse it too closely, for fear we’ll somehow corrupt it.

I’m not talking about the moment or experience that prompts a writer to tackle a particular issue or topic. I’m talking about the day-to-day inspiration that becomes the heart and soul of a good story.

Anne Lamott, in her fantastic book on writing, Bird by bird, talks about creativity coming from the unconscious, and the need to get out of the way and let it do its thing:

‘…everything you need is in your head and memories, in all that your senses provide, in all that you’ve seen and thought and absorbed. There in your unconscious, where the real creation goes on, is the little kid or the Dr Seuss creature in the cellar, arranging and stitching things together. When this being is ready to hand things up to you, to give you a paragraph or a sudden move one character makes that will change the whole course of your novel, you will be entrusted with it. So, in the meantime, while the tailor is working, you might as well go get some fresh air… Otherwise you’ll want to sit there and try to contribute, and this will only get in the way. Your unconscious can’t work while you’re breathing down its neck.’

It definitely resonates with me, this idea of trusting the unconscious.

I still have to plot my story, work on characterisation, polish my prose and know what I’m doing and where I’m going. But those ‘aha!’ moments that solve a problem or take my characters in a new direction, tend to arrive without warning – and usually not when I’m actually writing.

This ‘inspiration’ crops up when I’m driving (yes, listening to the Foo Fighters), cooking, cleaning or about to fall asleep. I write the idea/s down and then can’t relax until I’m back at the computer, working them into my writing or editing. Sometimes those ideas do come when I keep plugging away at a line or a paragraph, but mostly they arrive when I’m not looking.

And see, now that I’m writing about this tricky thing called inspiration (aka the muse, the unconscious, the temperamental inner child), I’m already worrying that I might have scared it away…


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