In theory, part of druid life is the quest for inspiration. For followers of the bard path, inspiration is necessarily intrinsic to what we do. I was grumbling on facebook the other day because a subset of people respond to the fact that I write by assuming I am in desperate need of subject matter. In the past, a few people have been really pushy trying to get me to take up what they thought were great ideas. They were only trying to help, but it wasn’t at all helpful, more irritating. I’m conscious that for people who are not perpetually questing after inspiration, the whole process may be a mystery. I also don’t think it needs to be. I write almost every day – here, and creating works of fiction, and non-fiction. So, where do I get my ideas from?
This morning I listened to half an hour of news, which included a number of provocative ideas. What I saw on the school run I could lavishly describe. On facebook, I caught up with friends and heard some exciting personal stories. It’s not 10am yet as I write this, and already the day has offered more raw material than I can use. I have all of the internet to play in, radio stations, books, friends, outdoors… and anything that I encounter could potentially be the seed from which to grow a story, a poem, or a blog. The problem is not finding inspiration. The problem is considering all the many possible sources of inspiration and choosing which ones to work with. I can’t use all of them. Some of them will undoubtedly be more powerful than others, or more relevant to projects already under way.
I begin by thinking about what has the most personal resonance – what has provoked the most thinking or feeling, or both, in me. Some days that’s enough to focus me down. However, I always pause at this point to ask what might be relevant, or resonant to someone else. Bleeding on the page may feel cathartic, but that’s about all it’s good for. So there’s a process of working with the raw responses, imagining an audience and trying to guess what someone else might get some useful mileage out of. That usually gets me to a blog post.
The longer works are more complex because I’m dealing with a theme, a narrative, and something already set up. I can’t just pluck ideas out of the air and shoehorn them in. They have to fit with the ideas already in use. I may be reading and researching to support a project, in which case I’ll be sifting for resonant ideas as I go. I may be drawing on content I’ve already explored. However, I never plan too much in advance. I get bored too easily. If I plot out a novel or pin down the exact content ofa book, the chances of my finishing it are slim. For novel, I have a shape in my head, and for non-fiction I’ll have a structure of title chapters laying out what ground I mean to cover, but that can change. Working this way allows projects to evolve organically and lets me bring in inspiration as it comes.
I spend a lot of time working on books when I’m walking, cycling or being domesticated. If I have nothing practical to do, staring out of the window is good. This is the time I use to sift through what I know, what I think, and imagine, and work out which bits hang together, and resonate with each other. I’m looking for exciting juxtapositions, ways of relating ideas to each other, things I can knock against each other to create something new.
Every moment of life has the potential to inspire us. The raw material is everywhere. The experience of awen for me, is less about perceiving the individual things that might inspire, more about finding a flow and rhythm that brings ideas into relationship with each other. That’s where the magic happens. It’s a deliberately sought and worked-for magic. It has to be fed. Being open to experience and aware of all the things that could inspire, is essential. But it’s the flow that turns random experience and disparate facts into something both new and meaningful. Seeing how to weave threads of ideas into a new fabric. It’s no good grabbing the first couple of ideas for a book that come passed. I reject far more ideas than I use. I have enough material in my head to create a novel most weeks. I don’t, because I’m not merely trying to write, I want to write the very best that I can.
I love it when people share experiences, ideas and inspiration with me. But please, don’t look round your living room frantic for any small thing that can be fed in. It’s not necessary.