The inspiration it takes to write an essay is not the same as that which is needed for improvising a tune, or writing a poem. Problem solving inspiration is still a ‘ping’ moment in the mind, but is sought out, often, in very different ways from the approach taken to writing a poem.
I used to be fairly passive about inspiration. I would wait for it to come along, and when it did, I would work with it in whatever way seemed to make sense. This is fine if you’re creating purely for your own amusement. However, when having to produce new things to order, courting it so that it turns up dependably becomes more of an issue.
I think one of the big differences between people who create purely for the joy of it, and people whose work revolves around creating, is the relationship with inspiration. I’ve struggled a few times this week and several well-meaning people have suggested I need to just chill out and see what comes to me. It’s not an option I always have, when pieces of writing need to go out in a timely way.
When you are able to just go with the flow and respond to inspiration as it comes, the creative process is a lot more relaxed. However, it also tends to be true that if nothing automatically turns up, nothing happens. That inspiration through grace process is easily lost, and you can spend a lot of time not having inspiration and not creating as a consequence – I’ve done it, sometimes for years. It’s not a reliably happy process.
I have to know what I’m seeking inspiration for before I start. It’s not a case of being open, but of being focused. If I need a blog post, there will be a logical going over of likely topics, recent issues, and whatever prompts I’ve been given to see if any lights come on. I deliberately poke about, testing ideas, because the flash of inspiration for a blog is more likely to show up if I am trying to figure out a blog. If I need a short story, I have to not be thinking about essays. I need to be playing with scenes, settings, characters or fragments of dialogue so that the right light can come on and start me connecting thoughts into narrative.
If I want to write poetry, the process is very different indeed, calling for entirely different thinking. I have to be less linear, less structured, I need a whole other thinking process with which to court inspiration.
It is very rare that ideas come to me unsought. If inspiration manifests out of the blue, I was usually doing something with my mind that enabled it to show up. Maybe I was remembering, or trying to unpick the sense of something. Perhaps I’d been speculating, or consciously empathising with something around me. Most likely, I was not being a passive recipient hoping for some magic to happen. Most of the time that leads to very little. I’d add that those pings of random, unsought inspiration are often very hard to use for me, because they don’t belong anywhere. I’m much more likely to get a great idea for something I was working on, than a great idea where I need to figure out the application and am able to follow through on that.
From what I understand of brain functioning, much of the important stuff happens at a not-conscious level. We are not privy to the majority of our own processing. Much of the creative process happens inside our own heads, whether you believe there’s a magical component, or not. If you are using your mind, the odds of your mind making connections between things, is much greater than if you just float around in a happy cloud of indifference waiting for some magic to spontaneously show up.