by Jeffrey J. Michaels
Creative inspiration cannot consistently be turned on and off, like a faucet. It strikes in the oddest of moments: the shower, the drive to work, the middle of the night, or during a movie that just is not holding your attention. As a writer we need to strike while the iron is hot.
What does that expression even mean?
When forging a tool or weapon the blacksmith would spend a great deal of time creating a very specific kind of fire and select a specific ingot of metal. After inserting the metal into the forge fire the smith tended the fire and coals and turns the metal to and fro, allowing heat to permeate evenly and soften even the hardest of metals. All this was in preparation for the work to be accomplished. But when all was in readiness, when the iron was at the perfect stage of malleability, the mighty smith would take his hammer and…yes, you know the rest.
Have you, as an author or artist, felt that sudden burst of inspiration? When was the last time you sat down at the keyboard and felt words pouring out in a blaze of white-hot creativity? Have you ever been “on fire” with ideas and execution? Or, has the opposite been true? Have you ever sat at your computer and stared at the screen in utter dismay wondering – “Where is the creative energy and why has my muse abandoned me?” Too often I hear the latter lament.
Striking while the iron is hot is not always a random event. Sure, you get those bursts which occur at the most inconvenient moments. I once heard of a writer who accessed a sudden vison of her entire novel while in the middle of her own wedding ceremony. Tough to scribble notes when you are taking vows. The initial ideas were sketched out in the ladies room on the backs of cake napkins, and then entrusted to her bridesmaid. By the way, the marriage did not last, but the book is pretty good.
The truth is, you have your own forge and your own fire to tend and stoke. There are materials waiting for you and you cannot simply rely on blinding flashes of brilliance to sustain your career. The metal must be examined prior to the forging. Designs must exist. Skills must be learned and honed. It is not enough for a craftsman to make a blade. Understanding the end purpose of it will enhance its quality. A smithy can often wield the tools he crafts in addition to his own tools. You must know your trade. The blacksmith does not approach a cold anvil and forge and wait for inspiration. He also does not wait for lightning to strike and heat up the metal.
It is the same with any creative endeavor. And by creative I don’t simply mean art. Designing and building a house is creative. So is building a business. Planting crops and raising animals is creative. All these things require forethought and knowledge. Often in the pursuit of knowledge we discover a new way of doing things. We gain insight and with it feel inspiration. And suddenly, or so it seems, we are in the heat of the moment. The fever is upon us and we feel a surge of energy.
Prepare for Synergy
This is called synergy, the creation of something greater than the simple elements used in bringing the project to existence. It is the use of letters to form words, then using the words to form sentences, and crafting the sentences and paragraphs to express deep emotion and high philosophical concepts. The collecting of the elements happens constantly. The more aware a writer is regarding the world around them and the more aware of the concerns of others, the greater the scope of the tale they can create using basic skills they gained in school.
But first, always first, we must be prepared to be possessed by the muse, to release our self-imposed limitations and allow for a free flow of concepts and ideas. It helps if we have a ritual or habitual space and time that we approach our forge, the place where we have banked the fire and the coals never cool – that space where creativity always occurs. And when we arrive it feels like the seat is already warm and waiting.
Seize moments of random inspiration by all means. Keep a notepad and pencil near you at all times just in case. Be surreptitious if you must. Bathroom stalls are great notetaking spots. Who is going to interrupt or question your absence from any gathering if you are in the privy? But if you desire to be the hottest new author, you must cultivate consistent heat.
Prometheus: Bringing light to dark places
I delight in the myth of Prometheus. But I do so for entirely different reasons than when the story was first told. Sitting around a real fire, a storyteller would relate how this life-giving element of flame providing light and heat to the tribe in a controlled fashion came to them as a gift from a rebellious god. Prometheus brought fire to humanity and suffered for his actions, his sacrifice on our behalf. The gods did not want mankind to have control over such combustive power, the implication being that somehow humanity was perceived as unworthy by the gods and should remain in an animalistic state.
In our day and age the myth takes on a different element. It is not so much the actual flame that we have been given, but in a cumulative way the original fire has led us to greater enlightenment through creating a life not limited to daylight hours and spring and summer growth. We now read and study by the light carried forward from ancient times.
Centuries of study and pondering lessons of the past now offer us a figurative enlightenment. The sense of Promethean sacrifice is rooted in the rebellion of questioning what the gods, those who are nominally “in charge” of the world, want hidden from our sight.
Our stories warm us and bring perception to dark places. The light source may be different, screens instead of campfires, candles, or gaslight, yet here we are, telling stories and passing on wisdom, thanks to the creative Promethean enlightenment.
As a creative being, will you waste such a flame, or fan it to brilliant, white-hot purifying art?
Jeffrey J. Michaels is a Gemini. As such he is deeply involved in whatever interests him at the moment. His describes his book A Day at the Beach and Other Brief Diversions as “metaphyictional,” combining fantasy and humor with metaphysical elements. He is currently polishing a sweeping fantasy series of interconnected tales collectively known as The Mystical Histories. It is varied enough that he says he may even finish most of the stories. In his real life he is a well-respected creative and spiritual consultant. He does not like to talk about his award winning horror story. www.jeffreyjmichaels.com