Sunday, 19 August 2012

How does inspiration work?

I’ve been following a discussion thread on Goodreads recently and it made me think about the link between an idea and a process. We were talking about what works for us in terms of planning our writing. There were some really interesting methods people use, a lot of which I had never come across before and some that are more common. I remember when I was studying for my degree in literature I read many examples of how several famous and successful writers work, past and present, and it was quite an eye opener, you would be amazed at the variety of processes. I think I have talked about how I work before and I’ll probably blog about it again too but this week I thought I’d talk about what comes before the process and planning, how the idea emerges and how sometimes the process of writing can create the idea. The well used phrase of 1% inspiration / 99% perspiration is pretty true as far as my experience goes.
            I’ll take you through a list of how inspiration has worked for me and I bet most will apply to everyone who reads this. Actually first I’ll say this, if you expect to be creative and you want to be inspired then you’ll be open to suggestion, you will consciously and unconsciously allow your mind to form ideas and remember things that you may not necessarily have taken notice of otherwise. A simple thing for me and you can’t get more basic than this, was to always make sure I had a pen on me, the amount of times I would be on a bus, in the bath or out for a walk and something would spring to mind and I wouldn’t be able to note it down and sure enough as much as I’d convince myself I’d remember it, whenever I got home I would be blank (now with smartphones it’s not so much of a problem but it still happens). So already the process of writing is part of the inspiration, having an idea means you have to record the idea and being able to record the idea means you are ready to have the idea. I remember when I was sixteen or seventeen deliberately going out for a bus ride to a town thirty minutes away or so and spending a few hours walking around the place trying to make observations and seeing if anything was of interest. It was the first time I set out to create (or force?) inspiration, I had a pen and notebook and would look at people going past and see if anything came to mind, I wrote down several little passages and I remember realizing afterwards that sitting in my bedroom just waiting for storylines to pop into my head wouldn’t always work. I think that was the first time I understood that writing wasn’t just an art form, or a hobby, or for people who were naturally gifted. I remember understanding that it was a formal job that needed hard work, routine and process.
            Anyway, what inspires me? I’m not sure saying what inspires me is the same as saying where my ideas come from. I don’t know why I think they way I do, why I want to explore the ideas I do, why I write about the subjects I do…I just do, and the inspiration comes in many different ways. I’m sure many of you are saying out loud that I am getting inspiration mixed up with motivation and I think you are partly right. I sometimes do feel that getting in the mood to write is a task in itself and that isn’t the same as having the inspiration to write something.
            So…music, putting on an album can change my mood and I know that certain types of music are what I need to write. I can listen to something to get myself in the mood but then I’ll need to put on classical or jazz when I actually start to write, it really helps me keep calm and the lack of singing helps me to focus. I’m a big fan of film and like music I may put on a certain type of film to get me excited about the challenge of writing but watching other types of film are the ones that flick something inside of me that says, ‘I want to make people feel emotion like that’. I know we could all list a thousand bands, directors, etc. and discuss for hours but as time is running out I’ll give just one example. I am a fan of Ingmar Bergman, not everyone likes his stuff and I can understand people when they say his films are boring or repetitive and so on, but I love them and there is something about his films that really inspire me, they make me want to create, to express, to tell a story. What about places? Visiting historic sites, homes, country houses, graveyards, parks, woods, beaches, lakes, the sea…they don’t have to beautiful, more interesting, unusual, exotic or strange…they all have the power to make the brain whirr. Of course the obvious thing to say is other writing, usually it only takes a couple of paragraphs of reading before I’m thinking up ideas that I’d like to write about. Then we have the triggers, I could sit down and set myself the challenge of writing something new and the difference having a single cup of coffee makes is incredible. The energy you feel when you are in love, when you are depressed, upset, sad, happy and so on all open up your mind to think about subjects that you wouldn’t think about otherwise, you want to explore emotions that may have been hidden from you up to that point. So inspiration can come from happy and sad feelings or occasions, you can see a terrible accident or a couple walking hand in hand and it moves you to write.
            What is difficult to handle is the false paths it can take you. You watch a film, you want to make a film. You hear a song, you want to write a song. You watch the Olympics, you want to take up the pommel horse. Some things are just never going to happen and it’s difficult to stop yourself from wasting too much energy on passions that are pointless and that has to be said about writing. You come up with an idea and you attack it and after a while you realize it’s going nowhere and all that energy that felt so good when you originally had the idea dissipates and you are left with something that you hate and have no idea why you started it. However, you come to learn to channel and direct that energy because you never know where that idea may go, it may become something great so you have to try, you have to spend time on it, you have to attack it otherwise you will never know, sure most of the time it maybe wasted but you can’t risk losing those gems when it works. That’s the frustration, that’s the bin full of wasted paper, that’s the spilt ink.  Inspiration can really hurt you and make you feel terrible at what you have or haven’t done. You can’t be afraid though, it’s something you have to accept and free yourself to allow. You will never be as good as what inspires you but don’t hesitate to try because what you produce may inspire someone else.

I’ve found it tricky this week as there is so much I wanted to express and I think I’ve digressed too much but I’m not breaking my rule on time so this will have to do. Feel free to tell me what I have missed!

Hour’s up.


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