I’m a Druid, and a part of what that means to me is holding inspiration sacred. Awen, the Welsh word for inspiration, is used by Druids to indicate this as a magical force. We seek to open ourselves to the flows of inspiration and creativity – thus far, so good. It all sounds a bit airy fairy arty farty, and sometimes that’s how it works out in practice, too. Mostly, it isn’t.
Inspiration needs looking after, and if neglected, it dries up. A bit like a houseplant, I suppose. Without calm and quiet, without mental space, the voice of inspiration gets lost in the mix. Drowned out by to-do lists, shopping lists, parenting requirements, can you just... and I need it by Thursday. Without making room for inspiration, it tends to be in short supply. Modern life with the endless pressure to do more, earn more, work harder, make even less go even further, is really an enemy to creativity. I’ve found if I want to write something longer than a blog post or an article, I need a craft project to busy my hands and loosen up my brain.
A life without inspiration, a life full of busy noise that gets little done, is miserable and frustrating. It’s all too easy to end up living this way. Banality is a form of madness, and not a good form, it just sucks the vitality out of everything, and you don’t need to think of yourself as a creative person to suffer from that.
Then there’s the other end – the flooding. Sometimes inspiration is not a mournful trickle, or a manageable stream. Sometimes it comes as a tsunami, with little warning. Either you ignore it, and feel you soul shrivelling as a consequence, or you go with it, and life goes mad. Cannot stop writing at midnight kind of mad. Cannot think about anything but this urge to create. It might sound fabulous. It might even feel fabulous when you’re in the throes of it, but it’s hazardous, and it can be frightening.
Last year I found myself in a pub with friends I’d not seen in a while. I’d been deep in a book, and only just surfaced. I realised I could not talk. I couldn’t explain where I’d been, or what I’d been doing, because so much of me was still away in the tree-based Druid apocalypse that is ‘When we are vanished’. I couldn’t even work out, that night, how to properly explain why I couldn’t string decent sentences together. All my words had gone somewhere else.
Sometimes in full flood, inspiration leaves no room for this life. It doesn’t want to eat, or shop, or do the dishes or herd a child off to school. It doesn’t want to sleep, or wash, or do anything else that would make me socially acceptable and bearable to live with. It can be a fight, a kind of inner violence trying to work out the bare essentials for being functional. It’s awful, and no fun to live with. At the same time, when I’m not that mad, obsessed and immersed, I miss it. There isn’t much sense in any of this.
Writing novels is all about hearing little voices in your head. It’s about characters who develop so much identity that you can no longer make them stick to the plot. It’s forgetting that everyone else isn’t living in your book, sometimes.
Of course there are other ways of writing books – calm, professional, craft orientated approaches to first drafts that probably cause far less trouble. I’ve never been much good at them, and the work I put out that way has always been wooden. If there isn’t a fire in my head, if I’m not a bit bosky, a bit away with the faeries, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of point.