Those “Aha!” Moments

You know what I’m talking about. Those moments of giddy inspiration that seem to leap out of nowhere into your mind and (hopefully) onto the page. You may have been struggling with a particular paragraph or plot conundrum or structural challenge…and suddenly the answer is right there in front of you, as sweet and as effortless as the kiss of the sun on a clear spring morning.

Let me tell you a secret though. It’s not really effortless. Just as a show or a concert only runs smoothly thanks to many hours of hard work behind the scenes, so the gift of sudden inspiration is often the reward for simply showing up and writing, hour after hour and day after day – when you’re tired, when you have no ideas, when every sentence you write is shit, when your fingers feel like lead on your keyboard and your head feels full of cotton wool.

I liken it to running, which I took up about a year ago as I was slowly but steadily shedding 12 kilos. I’ve kept running because I’ve found it to be therapeutic and enjoyable. Here’s what happens most days when I put on my shoes and drag my old(ish) bones out the front door. The first few minutes are fine. I’m outdoors, I’m listening to great music, I’m feeling fit. Then the muscles start to protest. Then I start to realise that I’m still sore from the previous day and I’m startled by how suddenly I feel like giving up. I keep going. I’m hating it. I start to sweat, but it’s not the sweat that makes you feel strong and human; it’s simply my pores protesting. I keep going. Then, about 15 minutes in, I realise it’s not quite so bad. I stand up straighter. I pick up my feet. I look around, and I’m grateful once again. I’m proud of my body. I’m having fun.

It can take a while to warm up when writing. You start slow, you write a crap sentence, you doodle, you make a cup of tea. You write another sentence. And another. You cross out two. You write three more. You grab some chocolate and hurry back to your seat. The words start to flow. Soon they’re tripping over themselves to make it onto the page. You’re away.

And from this, my friends – not from day dreaming, or doodling, or waiting, or hoping, or crying, or suffering, or stomping up and down, comes those breathtakingly wonderful moments of inspiration.

I went away for a weekend by myself not long ago, with the sole purpose of finishing my novel once and for all. I didn’t quite get there, but here’s what did happen. I worked, by myself, in a friend’s bach by the sea, all day Saturday and most of Sunday (interspersed with a bit of running / beach walking / croissant eating). I came away vaguely disappointed that I still had some work to do, but these things always take longer than you think, don’t they?

The best thing about the weekend happened a day or two later. I was running, and thinking about a tricky section of plot that just wasn’t working. I rounded  a corner, and there it was. The solution simply…presented itself, and suddenly I knew exactly what to do to not only fix that particular section…but also to make it immeasurably better.

I am convinced that this moment only happened because of the hard work I had put in over the preceding days. I was in “the zone”. My muscles were warm. I was primed, and ready for the solution to present itself.

Hard work and a willingness to commit first. Inspiration second. Not the other way round.

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