As writers and readers, most of us have experienced the phenomenon of reading something for the second time and feeling as if we had never read it before. A hallmark of this experience is the sense that we are being spoken to directly. It is as if the words are seeds and one is a freshly plowed field waiting to be planted. Days afterwards we are still thinking about the ideas that have grown out of the words that rooted inside us.
This happened to me recently when I picked up Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation. Our Saturday morning Writers’ Group had been diligently working through the chapters and tools in this book since we began meeting last April, but it had fallen by the wayside, like so many things, around the holidays. Grabbing something quick to read in the car when my two-and-a-half year old fell asleep in her car seat, I propped The Right to Write against the steering wheel, opened it and read for the second time:
We should write, above all, because we are writers whether we call ourselves writers or not. The Right to Write is a birthright, a spiritual dowry that gives us the keys to the Kingdom. Higher forces speak to us through writing. Call them inspiration, the Muses, Angels, God, Hunches, Intuition, Guidance, or simply a good story – whatever you call them, they connect us to something larger than ourselves that allows us to live with greater vigor and optimism.”
As I read, I felt a flashing up of recognition and excitement. I fell in love, again, with a book that not only invites everyone to be members of the club called Writers but believes that once there we are in very high company, indeed. In a single paragraph, Cameron demystifies the act and status of writing while opening the door to the mystical.
Perhaps Cameron’s words fell upon me in a new way the second time around as the result of a certain thread of conversation our clutch of Saturday morning writers returns to again and again: The Nature of Inspiration. For our group, pondering together the Source of the words we put down on paper is as important to us as the finished work we share and critique.
Our conversations on the subject can be distilled down into one essential question: How do we facilitate our connection to Divine Inspiration? How do we both prime the Pump and open ourselves to its Creative Juices? Instead of waiting for Inspiration to strike, which could be hit or miss, how can we invite it in at will, or at the very least, read the signs of its coming so we could be ready for its arrival, pen in hand? To that end, we brainstormed and shared anecdotes of times we each experienced that combination of flow and well-being that characterizes a visit from the Muse.
R., the most prolific of our group, shared how sitting down to write is part of her daily morning ritual, falling somewhere between eating and exercising. In this way, she signals to Divine Inspiration that writing for her exists as one of her most basic needs, as precious to her as food and health. Since the Creative Powers are both, they respond to her sincere dedication with a steady stream.
Another one of our ranks, M., offered a beautiful metaphor that inspired many of us to apply it to our writing with good results. She described the meaning behind having one’s own aasana mat in the practice of yogic meditation. Each time one meditates, the aasana mat becomes permeated with the energy and atmosphere of the tantric union between the human being and the Divine. Eventually the devotee achieves his connection to the Divine more quickly and fully just by sitting on the mat.
Translated to the craft of writing, the spirit of the aasana gives deeper meaning to the writer’s aim to “just get our fannies in the chair.” It gives permission to care about the mise-en-scène of our writing: the lucky pen, the lilac-colored ink, the Moleskine notebook versus the Clairefontaine, the window, the chair facing north, the lit candle – each a talisman, each a lightning rod to attract the Writing Gods.
My personal contribution to the quest of heightening Inspiration has been the observation that it can strike anywhere, anytime, and it helps to be ready for it. Far too often, images and ideas, whole pages-worth of description and dialogue come to me . . . when I’m driving! I would desperately try to memorize what was flowing in until I could reach my destination and write it down, only to find it flee, like certain dreams before waking, leaving behind only a few disjointed images. Now I carry a small handheld digital tape recorder and write whenever the spirit moves.
Whatever you may wish to call it – ritual, rhythm, the rite to write, or just good old-fashioned discipline – writers can be proactive in wooing the Higher Forces Cameron speaks of in her book. It can be as basic as just showing up at the computer, day after day, with an attitude of optimistic expectation. One day, midway through untangling a stubborn plot line or riffling through adjectives, words pour onto the page faster than fingers can type; time stands still while the hours fly. Rereading what we’ve written we wonder, “Who wrote that?” And then we realize . . . we have Company.