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Inspiration is like a cool breeze, one minute it’s there and blowing refreshing ideas into your mind, the next you’re sweating again as you strain to remember what it was like when everything felt easy breezy for a moment.
It’s hard to hold onto that feeling and it’s honestly tragic at times. As writers, we learn to develop our own personal methods of trying to capture those magic moments of insight usually by means of pocket pads, or post-it notes, or voice memos, or phone files, or, my personal favorite, just thinking to myself That’s a good idea. Great, actually. So good, in fact, that I don’t need to write it down because I’ll definitely remember such a great idea. And then proceeding to forget it immediately. It works like a charm.
We use these different means of recording ideas because we understand just how fleeting inspiration can be. When the moment comes, we need to have our idea nets (dream catchers??) open and ready or we’ll miss our chance to pocket the prize.
If you’re anything like me, you can sometimes have a hard time remembering to write down a lot of things you think about during the day. I mean, I carry a notebook with me at all times and I still forget to open the thing and write down ideas when they come. My memory is so bad, I forget that I even have something in my pocket specifically meant to keep me from forgetting the reason I have it in my pocket in the first place.
It’s for reasons like this that I’ve grown fairly accustomed to improvising my writing as I go. I clearly can’t trust myself to adhere to any kind of structure or bullet-pointed way of keeping track of my ideas, so by the seat of my pants I fly and over the years my wingspan has gradually grown wide, proud, and more denim-laden than ever.
I have gotten a lot better at recording ideas and capturing inspiration when it strikes throughout the day, but for the most part, I’m still very much a proponent of conjuring inspiration in the moment; to improvise ideas into existence that otherwise wouldn’t have surfaced in the same way.
I’m not about to rail against structure and preplanning. Forethought is absolutely necessary when you’re trying to create something complex and I’m not one to put down anyone else’s means of getting to their ends. Instead, I want to shed some light on other possibilities for the people that can have a hard time with that planning stage. It’s easy to get stuck staring at blueprints because you’re too nervous or apprehensive to just start building.
A lot of people who have a hard time moving on from planning to pursuing aren’t looking at their work in the same way they look at their thoughts. And that’s all writing is, isn’t it? Thoughts and ideas in squiggle form. We never stop thinking, and all we’re doing when we write is pressing the record button in our brains as we relay these thoughts in as articulate a way as we’re able.
When you think about writing in this way, it’s easy to see how much potential there is if you were to able to write down everything you were thinking. This is where improvising comes in.
You only have one stream of consciousness. You mustn’t impede its flow by trying to direct it where you want it to go. Sometimes ideas are able to be shaped and controlled in a way that you particularly see fit, but a lot of times ideas are singular in their origin and almost seem to exist independently of the mind that conjured it.
With certain great ideas as these, the best way of allowing it to unfold into reality is to simply let it guide you instead of the other way around.
Improvising your writing really just means allowing yourself to become the passenger while your initial idea drives you through the various paths and intersections of possibilities that, if it would have been up to you, you might have stopped at or turned down the wrong road.
If you can find it within yourself to sit back and let the idea do its job, there’s a good chance you’ll end up somewhere completely unexpected that you otherwise might never have arrived. I’ve written scripts that would have been better as short stories, and short stories that would have been better as a sketch. Sometimes a poem is actually a play, or a song a story. We never know an idea's true form unless we set aside the egoic mind that conceived of it in a certain form and let it tell us what it actually is.
It can be disheartening when you have a great idea for a certain kind of art and in the midst of creating it, realizing that you should have tried to manifest it in an entirely different way. It’s all trial and error. The more you let your ideas guide you, the more you understand which forms work best for your styles and sensibilities.
Improvising your inspiration isn’t as reckless as it sounds. It just means that you don’t get in your own way. Your mind is an idea engine and those thoughts are coming, ready or not. If we can stop trying to find the right words, and just let the words find their own way out, you’ll be unexpectedly surprised at the kinds of results you’ll see.
Set your judgments aside, as well as your expectations. The words are there, waiting to run outside and play. Don’t be a helicopter parent by watching their every move. Let them find their friends and go on their own adventure. They’ll return with the streetlights, tired, hungry, and in need of a page to sleep.