What conditions help you write?
Since our mantra at Review Fuse is “Igniting Creativity,” I always try and keep my eye out for book and articles about creativity. Recently, I’ve been reading Uncommon Genius, a great book by Denise Shekerjian in which she attempts to trace the creative impulse by interviewing forty winners of the MacArthur Award. If you’re not familiar with this award, it makes for a pretty good story in itself—basically, the award is a cash sum given to people who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”
Inspiration is a funny concept, and I think it gets in the way sometimes more than it does any good. If you think of those moments when you were really writing well and turning out something you are really happy with and that you’re not ashamed to look at for the rest of your life, often you think it’s inspiration because you don’t know exactly how it got there. You look at it and think, This is so much better than I could possibly do. I must have been inspired.
But if you then think back to that moment and try to reconstruct in your mind how the moment was contrived, how it was arranged, and what the conditions were for that so-called inspiration to happen, is seems to me that you can try to reproduce those conditions. And if you reproduce those conditions it seems to me you have increased the probability that the ‘inspiration’ will visit again just as certain chemicals combine under some conditions and not under others. Providing those same conditions increases the probability that you’re going to get the combustion, the combination, the fertilization. An event just might take place.
Crase then describes how he practiced this with his poem, “Cuylerville” by going to the place and just sitting and looking around for a long time. Then he found a song that reminded him of the place and made a tape that repeated the same song over and over to listen to.
Of course Crase is not the only one to talk of certain conditions affecting his ability to write. In On Writing by Stephen King (which we’ve mentioned here before), he talked of a proper writing space “with a door you can close.” He also mentioned that he works to loud music—AC/DC, Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses—and that he thought it important to adhere to a schedule.
And there are many more examples: During the 1920’s many writers and artists believed you had to live in Paris to be inspired. Truman Capote said he did his best work in hotel rooms. Kipling required a specific, obsidian black ink. Dickens turned his bed north, believing that magnetic forces enabled his creativity. Kant wrote in bed at the same time every day staring at a tower out his window. When trees started to block the view, he had them cut down. French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac required copious amounts of coffee to work. And Beethoven stimulated his mind to write music by pouring ice-cold water over his head.
So what about you? Have you thought of the conditions that bring about your best work? One of my best times is late at night when everyone else is asleep. I put on my comfortable headphones and listen to some classical music or sometimes “The World’s Greatest” by R. Kelly—I know it’s corny and I really don’t like R. Kelly, but for some reason this song just gets me in a positive mood. I often start by reading my most recent feedback from Review Fuse, then I close all other programs and start typing.
Share what works for you in the comments. Do you have “inspiring” conditions? Make sure to use them to do your best work.