Learning to trust your back brain

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headonkeyboardI’m often asked, “Where do your ideas come from?”

My answer is usually some variant of, “They come from everywhere: history, music, conversations with friends, movies (the character of Will Munny from Eastwood’s film, Unforgiven, partially inspired the Erevis Cale stories), fiction I’m reading (a passing reference in a short story in The Weird inspired a few scenes from A Discourse in Steel), lyrics to songs, the list goes on.

But the from whence doesn’t really get at the process of how.  And how is as inscrutable as the Trinity.

When I first started writing professionally, I sometimes tried to force inspiration. I had a book deadline and by God my brain was going to give me some ideas right fucking now or I was going to hold my breath and starve it of oxygen!  That’ll teach it to hold out on me!

Of course, that didn’t work. At all. Ever. Instead it created an enormous amount of self-induced stress, which only increased as I watched days tick away and the deadline get closer and closer. And stress, of course, is not conducive to the creation of great ideas, which led to even less inspiration, which led to even more stress, which ultimately left me a twitchy mess who constantly held my breath.  Stupid, stupid brain!  Take that!

Then one day I realized something — for me, inspiration always comes, always, but it comes at its own pace. I just needed to relax, trust myself, and let the back brain do its thing.  The challenge was staying patient, because “trusting myself” sometimes took a fair amount of time and looked a lot like “doing nothing.”  And indeed it was like doing nothing, at least consciously.  My job at that stage was to go about my day while my back brain simmered behind the scenes. Invariably my subconscious eventually settled on some idea and when it did that idea would bubble up to my conscious mind, at which time I’d jump onto the nearest computer or recording device and capture it.  That would lead to more ideas, rinse and repeat.  Worked (and works) like a charm.

So, the upshot is that my process is really not much of a process at all. It’s basically the slacker motto: “Just chill, bro.”  And it works for me.  I stay patient, I trust myself, and eventually the idea shows up.

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2 Comments

  1. How often do you write? I have heard of some authors who spend two hours a day generating writing. Whether the writing was done well or done poorly, they didn’t care as long as they were doing two hours a day. Seems logical.

  2. When I’ve conceived of the book and outlined it, I write essentially everyday. When I’m in the simmering phase (as I describe it above), I might do nothing more than sketch ideas as they come to me, and that phase can last for weeks or even a month or two.

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