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.