Friday, March 9, 2012

Chasing the Ah-hah

Some people strap a parachute on their backs and ride a bicycle off the edge of a cliff. This is how they get their adrenaline high. Other people write novels. When it comes to the rush of inspiration, the heady wait-a-second-I’ve-changed-my-mind-oh-no-it’s-too-late wa –hoo of free falling crazy, sitting at your desk typing may seem worlds away from hurling yourself into nothing but one hundred meters of thin air, but look again.

The dopamine rush of a bright idea can, in every way, rival the brown-pants dive off a cliff. Heart pumping, mind numb, the writer who is in the grip of inspiration can only fall headlong, hope to manage which way is up, while the rush of something huge, unmanageable, un-tame, hurls us through itself.

Inspiration comes when it pleases, and leaves when it will, often evaporating while we are snagged by the undies on a branch jutting from the side of our cliff. We’re left hanging, nursing the wedgie of a lifetime, wondering if inspiration will come again, wondering what it all means, wondering where we left our safety rope.

The wallop of inspiration is that it allows us to bathe, ever so briefly, in the massiveness of story and all its possibilities. Inspiration allows us to run our fingers through the purpose of story, and hear the beating heart at its core. Inspiration fills our minds, senses, and emotions to overflowing in mere seconds. One moment we were rinsing conditioner from our hair, or weeding the garden, or making dinner, and the next we are transported, thrown off the cliff, and are headlong lost in an unnamable vastness that contains the entire universe and, miraculously, also the minute details of the story we are writing.

Inspiration is too big to handle. The teaspoon of it we experience at any one time is enough to overwhelm us. It takes us over. It throws us from the cliff without checking if we’ve got the parachute strapped to our backs (practiced writers wear theirs always, having learned the hard way what happens if caught unprepared).

Inspiration isn’t the satisfactory click of things falling into place, rather, it’s a precipice from which we launch ourselves. It leads us, not into answers, but into better questions. It shows us what our sensible adult minds abandoned in childhood. It turns our ideas on their heads, inside out, upside down. Shakes loose all that can be shaken. If only we have the courage to keep leaping from high places.

Why does this happen? Where does it come from? When will I see it again? We don’t know, and that’s part of the thrill of it. We. Don’t. Know. And our only hope it to be excited by that. The not knowing has to turn us on. Because if it doesn’t we’ll dry up. This is genesis of all writer’s block: fear inspiration will not come.

You gotta love the not knowing. Long for the long wait. Resist chasing after inspiration even when your legs twitch to run. Wait for rain on a cloudless day.

We don’t own this thing, we can’t control it, we can’t demand from it, and it will defy our every timetable. Grab for it and it will bite you. Worse, it will leave you.

When it hits, it’s never at a convenient time. Never on purpose. It doesn’t roll over us when we are so busy, so deluded by our task of writing that we convinced ourselves it has anything to do with sitting at a desk and typing. Inspiration comes when our minds wander enough that we accidently forget all our rules about safety and what’s right and proper, and we skirt too close to the cliff’s edge. 


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Oh you know I love this line: "Inspiration isn’t the satisfactory click of things falling into place, rather, it’s a precipice from which we launch ourselves. It leads us, not into answers, but into better questions."

That second part is what I vlogged about. Oh, yes I did. Just not brave enough to post it yet. :D

~ Wendy

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Ah, yes, the inspiration induced wedgie. Excuse me while I...just...ah. Much better.

Last week, inspiration tugged me along right before church started. I wrote like a crazy woman in my journal. When my friend approached and said "hi" I nearly had a heart attack! I'd forgotten where I was for a moment.

Great post, Bonnie!

Bonnie Grove said...

Post that vlog, Wendy!

Funny, Susie. And I know all the writers out there are nodding, remembering when something like this happened to them. We're a jumpy lot, aren't we? Always forgetting where we are, and being startled back to reality. So prefer the playground in my mind.

Steve G said...

So, Susie, What was a crazy woman doing in your journal?

I think the image of hanging on the side of a cliff by your underwear caught on a stick is great. It is one of those experiences that everyone can relate to - at least feeling like that. ife's too short not to jump sometimes.

Steve G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susie Finkbeiner said...

Ha ha, Steve. All the women in my journal are a little crazy. :) I don't know how to write about sane people.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Yes! That's it! I am a bright idea junkie.
I have never been successful at living on love; but I thought it was faith, hope and trust to live on bright ideas - the adrenaline led me to believe grand things. Oh, Bonnie, this is the stuff opening sessions of writer's conferences should be made of. Have you videoed it for Youtube yet? Go big. Spotlight. Burnished wood speaker's podium. Be sure and show thousands in the darkened auditorium laughing at the cliff-hanger cartoon on the big screen.

Bonnie Grove said...

Cherry, you flatter me. I can't image a crowd much larger than my hubby and kids, possibly my parents, come out to hear me speak.

I'm a terrible speaker. I trip over things (once I tripped on a step and ended up doing an impromptu Elvis impersonation. Another time I knocked over the podium, including the jug of ice water sitting on it), I laugh at my own jokes, and I spend so much time getting feedback and ideas from the audience I barely have time to say what I came to say.

Martin Reaves said...

Beautiful. Truly. Thank you.

Bonnie Grove said...

Thanks so much, Martin. And we all very much appreciated your insightful and moving comments on Debbie's post on Monday.

I hope everyone gets a chance to pop back in and read what you said.