The Mystery of Inspiration in Writing
When he delivered his Nobel Lecture in 2005, entitled Art, Truth and Politics, the playwright Harold Pinter said the following:
‘I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.
Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word, or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.
The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is ‘What have you done with the scissors?’ The first line of Old Times is ‘Dark.’
In each case, I had no further information.
In the first case, someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn’t give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either for that matter.’
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He went on to say that he begins by calling his characters A, B and C – with no idea who they are until he begins writing, and they ‘reveal’ themselves to him.
This aspect of writing – the magical, the unplanned, the inspired part, is a relationship writers develop with a hidden part of themselves we learn to trust. Some of us like to know upfront how things will plan out, who is who, what is what, where the story is going, to have the structure all mapped out. I have met writers like this and they intimidate the crap out of me. Like they have a road map they’re following and simply have to fill in the narrative. I can’t tame my game like this. When I start, I usually have no idea where my story is going. I just have a feeling. I like not to know where my story is going and to discover my characters as I write.
If you are ‘waiting’ to know where your story is taking you before you commit words to the page, stop waiting. Start writing. The act of writing engenders the story, it tweaks open the valves and gets the juices flowing.
Start with a sentence. Any sentence. And pursue it quietly like a creature you’re following to its hidden lair.