The old saying is that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, and every conscientious writer – or artist of any description – takes this onboard as a truism. We learn to work hard, to channel inspiration into the mechanism as a fuelling agent. Is that the only role for inspiration? How does it function?
This is perhaps a unique matter for every artist. The interaction of the faculty (that glimpses a finished product) with the means (by which it is reached) – when coming to think about it I find myself hard put to say how it works. There is obviously some professional component, but my impression is the facility is probably far more intrinsic than it is mechanical.
In an interview many, many years ago, Freddie Mercury was asked how he came up with the idea for Bohemian Rhapsody. He replied it was in fact three different songs, none of which was working on its own; when combined they became three sparkling components of a new whole – and the rest is history, as they say. Surely that was both an inspired move and a thoroughly professional one – the ability to understand when the material was not working and to make a leap of faith to find a form in which it did.
As a painter in my earlier years, I was either blessed or cursed with the ability to see in my mind’s eye what my finished artwork should look like, and then left with the task of trying to match that vision with a brush – it never really worked. As a writer the same faculty is in play, and it is still just as visual. I will glimpse a scene and wonder what it means, perceive some vista that characters will move among or witness, and be left to overcome a problem – the visualisation is complete in itself if one is a painter, but in terms of fiction constitutes a setting, contributing to a scenario, and merely describing it is not telling a story. It contributes to the texture and world building elements, and is inspirational because of its completeness, but other elements need to come together for it to mean something coherent.
Some writers glimpse plotlines, the interaction of characters and the forces driving them, but are surprisingly light on setting and detail. That would seem the opposite of sensing the lush detailing of a scene and then fitting the story dynamics to it.
Whichever tack one comes in on, it is the end product that matters – are the elements balanced? If the characters are both believable and set against an engaging backdrop, it should make no difference to the reader which element came first in the creative process. How does the story read? Proof of the pudding, and all that.
Can we write without inspiration? Of course; ignoble hack work for low wages – the sports reporter, the jaded critic, the micro-managed coursework composer, the pulp-fiction ghost writer – would likely be devoid of inspiration, and many a writer has probably found him or herself in such a trap, making ends meet but not enjoying it. To the creative soul can there be anything worse than the shine going off what used to be a joy? The real trick is preserving the pleasure in the process, keeping the art alongside the technical competence and, yes, the spark of inspiration alive. After all, it is that inner visualisation the artist tries to capture and record, and, surely for many, it’s where the pleasure really lies.
Cheers, Mike Adamson