December 11, 2010

Baseball and writing: it works for me

My topic today is inspiration and whether we can encourage it. Are some activities less conducive to inspiration than others? And is there an activity we can engage in that will enhance our creativity? I don't think anyone knows the answers to these questions, which means we have only our experience to guide us. Here's mine.

The big ideas -- the concepts for the novels, for instance -- came at odd times: when I had a high fever, when I was thinking about something completely different; and (for Xmas Carol) in response to a question I asked myself.

But the bulk of my ideas -- for new short stories, new scenes, interesting plot twists -- came while I was watching a baseball game. When baseball is in season, it and writing are a perfect duo for me. I write in the afternoon (there is no such thing as morning) and when nighttime rolls in, I watch or listen to a game. There's something about baseball that lets me pay attention with only a part of my mind, effectively allowing most of my mental energy to roam. I think that's the secret. Baseball makes me comfortable and doesn't suck up my mental resources. This allows ideas to bubble up during the game.

When this happens, I pause the game (thank you, TiVo) and write down my thoughts. When I'm done, I jump back into the game -- and this happens over and over again. For some reason this works incredibly well for me. It's like a system: write all day and at night, watch baseball and have ideas. On summer mornings it's so great to wake up to a fresh batch of ideas. I have coffee, read my notes and then I'm ready to dive into the day's work. It almost feels like baseball is my writing partner.

The process of "getting and idea" is weird. You can't just sit down and say, "okay, tonight's the night -- I'm going to have that great idea." It doesn't work like this. You can't schedule two hours to come up with new ideas.

For you, baseball might not cut it. The subtext here is that inspiration arrives in odd moments -- like when you're on a long train trip, or when you're taking a walk or are on the very brink of sleep. (More here about a way to snatch those sleepy ideas before you fall into the abyss and they're gone.)

In other words, inspiration can't be coaxed; it comes in its own time. It seems that good ideas come only when we're not looking for them. Weird, eh? Kinda like love. To me, this is more evidence that it's not our conscious mind that's controls our writing. It's our entire self, including mental components deep down inside -- stuff we don't even know is there. And those components play by their own rules. All we can do is wait and be receptive.

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