Such a simple idea, really. We need to be open to the world around us. To pay attention, not with a hyper-intense staring-down of every small detail and bit of dialogue or perfect image, not with tensed muscles and clenched jaws, but with a sense of looseness. Of openness. Of generous engagement with our surroundings. Otherwise, ideas will pass us by. We’ll be too busy hunting them down to actually see them when they present themselves–and trust me, they always do.
I have lately been reminded of the state I find myself in when I’m between books. And I’m here to tell you: it isn’t pretty. No matter how many times I’ve done this, it doesn’t change. I become convinced, at a certain point between finishing one book and beginning the next, that I will never have anything else to say. This time, I’m certain, the well has run dry and it won’t fill up again. I can tell myself that my own history has proven me wrong. I can try to remember that this always happens, and, like a huge, crashing wave, it always passes. Eventually I find myself on the other side of it. Drained of all fear. In fact, so drained of fear–so sick and tired of my own thrumming anxiety–that the feeling becomes one of recklessness. A good kind of recklessness. Fuck it. I’m ready. And only when I’m in this state of readiness, recklessness–again, of openness–do the ideas come. They come in the form of a fragment, an image, an overheard sentence, one piece of an idea meeting up with another and then, suddenly, boom, there it is. It cannot be forced. It will not happen if I am trying too hard, if I’m too panicked or tense or over-eager.
But it’s a hard-won feeling, and sadly there are no shortcuts to it. To reach that place, that take-no-prisoners place where the creative process takes root, there is always a journey through a sticky, dark jumble of self-recrimination, self-censorship, self-loathing. There should be a 12 Step Program for writers who are between things, for writers who are beginning something new, who are struggling. (Of course, it could be argued, there should be a 12 Step Program for every step of the way, since none of it is easy.) But the white-hot recklessness that springs from the darkness and allows us to put those first words down on the page is something like falling in love. Once you actually know the feeling, there’s no mistaking it.