Writing Fiction: How To Train Your Inspiration – Part III
A long time ago, in a universe that intersects with our own, an author met and made friends with a powerful Force. And never ran out of ideas for stories or any words. Never. Ever.
This author learned to trust that Force to deliver whatever was needed, whenever needed.
We aren’t talking space opera here, but this fantasy is all too real.
You’ll find it in every one of the Pulp Fiction Masters, as well as James Patterson and other over-prolific authors.
A recent study of Louis L’Amour brought this to view again. Because he trained himself along the same lines as Lester Dent, Michael Moorcock, and William Wallace Cook. All of these would crank out stories non-stop. And did for decades each.
That just hands us the riddle of how they did this.
In the earlier parts to this series, I cover some of this, with some examples.
More recently, additional clues bubbled up.
Dorothea Brande in her “Becoming a Writer.” (book | course) tells about how you need to rise from bed and go straight to your keyboard without speaking or reading anything. Then pour your ideas out, regardless of grammar or form.
Later in her book, she mentions a simple way to get back in touch with your inspiration – empty your mind. Lay down or sit in a chair and think nothing. Just relax. And you’ll find this was also Edison’s secret with his naps – to recline in a chair with steel balls in your hand and a metal bowl beneath. When you start dropping off into deep sleep, your muscles relax, the balls drop, and you are awake again. Rise and put whatever inspiration you receive to work.
Inspiration is always on. That’s your “unconscious” as Brande refers to Freud’s original work. Your “conscious” is what is closed off. You need both halves to work together in order to produce inspired work.
That is the entire basis of Brande’s book. This is what forms the “Writer’s Magic”. It can’t be trained, but it can be learned. And it is more basic than all the training in plots and characters and dialog and all those how-to mechanics.
This came home to me again when I tried to study “Plot and Structure” by James Scott Bell. I was after some more data about cliffhangers. And found he had put this all in two facing pages of his book. It was just a laundry list of types, not any real explanation. The next thing I found was that Bell’s whole book was this way. It read more like a cookbook full of recipes, most of which I’d found in other’s books.
Books like his abound. It is well written, and comprehensive. And I have two other books by him to study in my stack of books by successful authors.
The problem with book-writing recipe books is that they feed the Conscious Mind, not your Unconscious. You feed your Inspiration by reading fiction that you like. Louis L’Amour also found that by reading nonfiction (narratives, not how-to’s) he would then have all the details he needed to write. Whenever they were needed. He also travelled extensively when younger, only settling down to write in his 40’s, where he then cranked out and sold a short story per week, with 3 – 4 full novels a year. (Amassing over a hundred novels and 250-plus short stories.)
One write-up said L’Amour would read classics out-loud to his children and wife in the am, then read non-fiction in the afternoons. (A separate write-up said that he rose to work at his typewriter at 6 am, completing around 10 pages of text each day.)
You want to find authors who really are writing memoirs around their tips and tricks. This is why Stephen King’s “On Writing” is so recommended. Another book down this line is Ray Bradbury’s “Zen in the Art of Writing”. They tell stories and give you their writing habits as they go.
You can also chase the reason for their popularity down to compilations like Aesop’s Fables, the Tao, and Jesus’ Gospels. All of these were written down years after the author was gone, and compiled through popular consent. Modernly, we have the only surviving essays of Earl Nightingale numbering some 250, while he wrote and produced nearly 7,000 recordings of “Our Changing World” at a pace of five episodes a week for decades.
The most popular stories and parables survive because they are great narratives, and inspire great story telling.
This also explains how they chose the stories that made it into the modern Bible. A bit more arbitrary, but they selected as editors, so that there was a single unified plot that ran through all the books. Recent non-canonical books are coming out now that give even more insight into those times and perhaps what Jesus actually said.
It’s all about the stories.
Stories feed the unconscious, inspired mind. So do facts and raw data.
You have to get your conscious mind into sync with your unconscious in order to get regular writing done.
Walks and Observation Are Key
This is the land of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalists. Don’t get all spooked here. Read “Walking” by Thoreau, or “Nature” by Emerson. You’ll see that they were able to walk in solitude and so directly re-charge their unconscious to give them inspired works. Thoreau wrote his famous “Walden” in just such a fashion. (Although he was known to regularly dine at the Emerson’s during that period, he had more solitude than not.)
In Brain Pickings recently (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/01/10/kenneth-grahame-the-fellow-that-goes-alone/) the following edited essay of Kenneth Grahame was revealed, along with various links to related materials. Grahame wrote this 5 years after his “Wind in the Willows” and it has only been broadly published in Peter Green’s 1959 biography of him.
While the original is only a little over two pages in that book, I’ve pulled Brain Pickings’ edited version for you:
Nature’s particular gift to the walker, through the semi-mechanical act of walking — a gift no other form of exercise seems to transmit in the same high degree — is to set the mind jogging, to make it garrulous, exalted, a little mad maybe — certainly creative and suprasensitive, until at last it really seems to be outside of you and as if it were talking to you whilst you are talking back to it. Then everything gradually seems to join in, sun and the wind, the white road and the dusty hedges, the spirit of the season, whichever that may be, the friendly old earth that is pushing life firth of every sort under your feet or spell-bound in a death-like winter trance, till you walk in the midst of a blessed company, immersed in a dream-talk far transcending any possible human conversation. Time enough, later, for that…; here and now, the mind has shaken off its harness, is snorting and kicking up heels like a colt in a meadow.
Not a fiftieth part of all your happy imaginings will you ever, later, recapture, note down, reduce to dull inadequate words; but meantime the mind has stretched itself and had its holiday.
This emancipation is only attained in solitude, the solitude which the unseen companions demand before they will come out and talk to you; for, be he who may, if there is another fellow present, your mind has to trot between shafts.
A certain amount of “shafts,” indeed, is helpful, as setting the mind more free; and so the high road, while it should always give way to the field path when choice offers, still has this particular virtue, that it takes charge of you — your body, that is to say. Its hedges hold you in friendly steering-reins, its milestones and finger-posts are always on hand, with information succinct and free from frills; and it always gets somewhere, sooner or later. So you are nursed along your way, and the mind may soar in cloudland and never need to be pulled earthwards by any string. But this is as much company as you ought to require, the comradeship of the road you walk on, the road which will look after you and attend to such facts as must not be overlooked. Of course the best sort of walk is the one on which it doesn’t matter twopence whether you get anywhere at all at any time or not; and the second best is the one on which the hard facts of routes, times, or trains give you nothing to worry about.
As for adventures, if they are the game you hunt, everyone’s experience will remind him that the best adventures of his life were pursued and achieved, or came suddenly to him unsought, when he was alone. For company too often means compromise, discretion, the choice of the sweetly reasonable. It is difficult to be mad in company; yet but a touch of lunacy in action will open magic doors to rare and unforgettable experiences.
But all these are only the by-products, the casual gains, of walking alone. The high converse, the high adventures, will be in the country of the mind.
This is the point of working without talking to people, in solitude.
Brande makes that point several times in her book. Of authors who took up solitary, menial work in order to gain their inspiration. Knitting, unravelling and re-knitting. Scrubbing floors. Any “mindless” activity. What they were doing was boring their conscious mind to quietude so that their unconscious could raise its own voice.
She tells of another author who would go to sit on park benches, alone. For when he was joined and talked with others, especially about the book he was writing, by the time he got back to his typewriter or pen-and-paper, the words were gone again.
There is some relationship between words and inspiration. Too many words read or talked means no inspiration. Long periods of not talking then brings inspired ideas which can be poured out onto pages.
Walks alone. Dull routines. Long silences without hearing or reading or talking words. Driving with no radio or other audio. These are some ways you can let the unconscious find its own voice. And by throttling your conscious from using words, this then lets your unconcious take charge of your word-factory. Your books then flow from your mind onto the page, regardless.
Eventually, you can find your own ways to do this, to achieve a balance between your conscious and unconscious. And you’ve then trained your inspiration.
And if you like what you just read:
Also published on Medium.