For me, inspiration is much the same thing as realization. Thinking about a factory setting in my novel in progress, Wash Away, I suddenly realized that the building had been a brewery before it became a chemical plant. “Realized” is the only appropriate word I could use here; it simply struck me. Even though this place is completely an artifact of my own imagination, I discovered a piece of its history.
This year for NaNoWriMo – and wish me luck with this approach, because I have no idea if it will work – I decided to write thirty scenes for my novel, one a day during November. I have a lot of threads in play, and they all need to go in certain directions, but a linear/sequential approach seems more difficult than necessary, since they’re all jumbled up in my mind. So I wrote thirty scene cards, which I will attack one at a time starting on Sunday.
Writing thirty scene cards required thirty small acts of inspiration. Inspiration is elusive, and everybody knows that. The best you can do is increase your odds. I believe in trying to cultivate a state of active waiting. The active part is attention and preparedness. If there is a place in my story and it needs a certain part, I can at least try to define the shape of that part, and be ready to recognize it when it happens to roll by me.
It’s such a presumptuous idea, to write a blog post about inspiration, as if I had it by the tail. I don’t, and I’m deeply aware that this is an area subject to what Dr. Laurie Santos calls “The G.I. Joe Fallacy.” The G.I. Joe Fallacy is mistakenly thinking that because you understand something, that understanding will change your behavior. (It comes from the phrase “Knowing is half the battle!” which I remember well from cartoon PSAs when I grew up.) I may be aware that active waiting is the best way to cultivate moments of inspiration. That doesn’t make the waiting any easier for me.
Franz Kafka wrote, in a notebook intended only for himself: “You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait. You need not even wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Robert Pirsig, in his unparalleled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, equated waiting for inspiration with the Zen state of nothingness in consciousness. If you’re trying to remove a motorcycle’s cover plate but you accidentally tear the head off the screw, you’re stuck. But wait, and “no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, this stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution. … The solutions all are simple after you have arrived at them. But they’re simple only when you know already what they are.”