Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Inspiration - Oh Brother Where Art Thou...

At least for me - straight up brainstorming does not lead to anything great - its hard work. It's building pyramids under the whip Pharaoh. But its not a goal in itself for me.

The reason - every idea that I have doggedly thought up and calculated and with the brute force of logic bent into some shape that resembled literature was never actually that good. I can see them in my work - where I couldn't remove them - but they stand out like sore thumbs to me. Like an improperly colored tile on the face that pyramid - or an Eye. (Yeah..Pharaoh is not going to like that.)

Does that mean Brainstorming has no point? No, because it is part of something - the quest for the Angel of Inspiration. Unlike Brainstorming (hard work - see above) Inspiration is light - it's magic - it's manna from heaven. Those incredible thoughts and connections that just pop into your head from who knows where and they are so good, so amazing - you feel kind of weird - and you start looking over your shoulder like someone's in the room with you. We all love inspiration - the problem with inspiration is that it hides like a... okay no swearing here - but it hides. Oh yes, it hides.

So how do you draw it to yourself - well you have to build the storm - and it has to be a storm that rips down tree limbs and knocks over billboards and then - amid that brainstorm of bouncing ideas and thoughts and possibilities around with your conscious mind - a gift arrives - somewhere from the ether - or your unconscious and it is soooooo much better than all the scheming possibilities you have come up with on your own.

Now the problem is - and the point of this weeks question is - what exactly do you do to brainstorm - to create this flow of ideas. Here are some things I try to do:

1. Go back and re-write a previous scene. This is part procrastination - an art at which I am a seventh degree Shao Lin master - and part actual genius, because it takes the pressure off and makes you forget that you are supposed to be solving some giant problem and it gets your sub-conscious mind working.

2. I start writing long hand on paper ( um... as opposed to what, I don't know - birch bark?) As we discussed briefly yesterday - some must use a certain type of pad - in this exercise my success is directly correlated with having a proper pen - G2 Pilot - gel ink - Black or Blue 0.5mm - shaken not stirred - is preferred weapon of choice. Something about writing long hand seems to help relax the mind as well. Shane noted yesterday that its so slow. (To be fair - you haven't seen me hunt and peck at the keyboard - its not pretty.)

But the point is - i think Shane has hit on the secret to the whole thing. You are a genius man. Because longhand writing is so slow the conscious mind has concentrate on forming each letter - the gridlock of fear and self doubt is no longer allowed to occupy any neurons - they have a job to do. And with those negative thoughts shoved aside by the alpha dog of maintaining penmanship standards, the subconscious mind is once again freed up to start concocting its brilliance.

3. Finally, if all else fails I do research. In the book I'm working on now there was going to be a scene at the Eiffel Tower - on the observation deck that I assumed must be there. Hmmm... I better check. this is fiction but if you give the Eiffel Tower an observation deck that doesn't exist, SOMEONE is bound to notice. (Damn critics)

So I start looking at pictures of the Eiffel Tower.

And schematics, and learning about how it was built and how the French initially hated it and called it a scar on the face of Paris. Which is a line in the DaVinci code - and I think hey Dan Brown's been down this road - so I must be on the right track.

And then I start looking at other pictures of France and Paris and then I realize the Eiffel Tower overlooks the Seine River and that the river is highly developed without any real banks and it's walled in on both sides and bordered by roads and now I have a fantastic idea for a motorcycle - boat chase where the boat driver cant get off the river and the motorcyclist cant get onto it and eventually jumps the bike off a bridge and lands in the boat to capture the bad guy.

And that starts me thinking about the character on the motorcycle and how he was probably a fan of Steve McQueen movies and The Great Escape in particular and then... well you get the idea.

And so it hits me - bizarrely, slacking off and zoning out and daydreaming and doodling and surfing the web are absolute necessities in this career. And focusing too hard and being too conscious and with it and too present in your work can sometimes be bad - HAVE I TOLD YOU HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS JOB!!!

And finally, if none of that works I scribble something down and move on - cause sooner or later it'll come to me.

Graham Brown is the author of two novels. The latest of which, Black Sun hits bookstores everywhere on August 31st. Black Sun takes on the concept of a 2012 apocalypse, the possibility that something could actually happen and the question for mankind as to what we would do about it - if it did.

Graham can be reached at http://www.authorgrahambrown.com/


Meredith Cole said...

What a perfect description of the creative process! We may look like we are doodling/napping/daydreaming, but really we're just figuring out plot points. Thanks, Graham.

Sophie Littlefield said...

I *love* this little peek inside your head graham! And wow - can't believe the book is just two weeks away! crazy :)

Zara Altair said...

The BEST description I've read of this inexplicable process. Thanks, Graham.

Graham Brown said...

Thanks Z One - if at least one other person gets what I'm saying than maybe I'm not crazy after all.

Meredith - you're right - its our apperance that is decieving.

Sophie - its a little scary inside my head - but sometimes it actualy makes sense.

Kelli Stanley said...

Wonderful, wonderful post, Graham, and rockin' description of those indescribable creative synapses ... they're kinda like the motorcycle jump in the Seine! :)

Can't believe BLACK RAIN is almost here ... can't wait!! :)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Great post, Graham! You really nailed how research works for me too! One thing leads to another and then there's a jump someplace else and *boom* there's the answer.

See, we're not screwing around--we're hard at work!

TWO WEEKS!?! That's great! What's the next book called?

Kelli Stanley said...

D'oh!! Sorry, Graham, typing too fast--I meant BLACK SUN!!!

BLACK RAIN is already in my bookshelf. :)

Of course, normally we've got NO sun on the west side of San Francisco ... ;)


Graham Brown said...

Hey Kelli - no worries - especially since you used my favorite explitive - "DOH!" That's what I get for naming them to similarly. Here's to motorcycle jumps with good landings.

Graham Brown said...

Hey Becky - I think this gives us ammunition for all those who think we're slackers.

The new book is called Black Sun - in which the characters globe hop from Africa to Hong Kong to Central America in what may be one last race against time. So far everyone loves it - so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Oh yes, research and re-writing chapters, my fave forms of procrastination. But, hey, they work!

Good post:)

Graham Brown said...

Thanks Terry.

Shane Gericke said...

Me a genius? Ha! But bless you.

Your point about rewriting is great. Redoing what we just wrote really gets the juices flowing. In addition to clearing out all sorts of wordy underbrush. But who knew we did it to advance the story instead of just, you know, slackin' off, which is why I rewrite so much ...

Nicely done blog, amigo.

Shane Gericke said...

Me a genius? Ha! But bless you.

Your point about rewriting is great. Redoing what we just wrote really gets the juices flowing. In addition to clearing out all sorts of wordy underbrush. But who knew we did it to advance the story instead of just, you know, slackin' off, which is why I rewrite so much ...

Nicely done blog, amigo.

Graham Brown said...

Thanks Shane - and yes you are a genius - and when you win the Nobel prize I expect to be part of your entourage.