Where Does Inspiration Come From?

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”  ― Saul Bellow

I have always loved to write. My childhood efforts were published in the children’s pages of the national farming magazine. The writings were usually poetry, but occasionally I wrote a short story in prose. I think it made me feel special, and linked to the exciting, unknown, city world,

Recently I have been wishing that I could see these again. My scrapbook of cuttings has long gone. I wonder, though, was that the beginning of the desire to publish now? I remember the waiting, after I had posted my fat envelopes, carefully licked to stick really well. The magazine came out once a month. Would it have any of my work in it? Often it did.

Where did my inspiration come from then, and where does it come from now?

When I was a child my inspiration came floating, tumbling or charging in as I settled to sleep, when I woke in the night, or on rising. I guess it was my subconscious* (See below) trying to make sense of my world.

I kept pencil and paper by my bed. Sometimes when I reached out or searched with my torch I couldn’t find it – disaster!  I couldn’t turn on the light; I shared a bedroom and I was supposed to be asleep.

My thoughts were precious to me – always inspired, my child’s brain was so sure. If I didn’t record them they would vanish. I would tiptoe on the cold floor and record those ideas the only way I could without waking my sister. The next morning I would be first up, springing from my bed, grabbing pencil and paper, and copying furiously.

My middle of the night inspiration was always there, thank goodness, safely recorded with a cold, wet finger in the condensation on the window. I had to be the first one up, in case my sister or my mother wiped the window dry and washed away my precious words. If there was no condensation on warmer nights I would huff and puff on the glass to create my own. Those mornings I really had to strain to see, looking from different angles to read what I had scrawled on the glass. If I didn’t wipe them off they would reappear the next time the window was wet, and my midnight thoughts would be exposed.

Now my inspirations are triggered in my waking hours. A chance observation, a snippet of conversation, a wonderful view or an interesting corner. Filing them away in notebooks and sketches doesn’t always work for me. I am happiest when I can grab the idea and run with it, abandoning whatever it was that I might have been doing. I write best with that urgency, chasing the idea in a much fuller form before it escapes. That wonderful window which is surely hiding a fascinating story, the house with a happy face, the tree with so many gnarled branches – all those wonderful settings wait in my subconscious and will emerge when the characters arrive.

The Lost Happy  page 13
The Lost Happy page 13

* Bryan Tracy, author of “The Psychology of Achievement”, writes a brief post about the subconscious here: Understanding the Subconscious

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