I used to work with a man who had all his best ideas in the shower. Others find running sparks creativity. For me, it’s driving. Not city driving, or bumper-to-bumper freeway driving, but long, mostly empty back roads (Blue highways, William Least-Heat Moon called them in his book about travel and place and belonging).
I was stuck, in my current work-in-progress, with a plot not complex enough for characters who are diplomats, subtle and devious. I needed a central conflict to have more layers to disguise a character’s behaviour. Pacing around the house didn’t help. So this morning, I went driving.
I’d gone perhaps 10 kilometers when something began to take shape, an idea rooted in a past book in the series and paralleling another subplot. Hmmm, I thought, this has potential. So what if…? By 30 km from the house, I had the outline. At about 50 km, I pulled over into a church parking lot in a tiny village, took my notebook out of my bag, and wrote notes for twenty minutes.
What is it about easy driving (or showering, or running)? I think it’s the repetitious, known activity that frees part of your mind to wander; the motor function taking its needed neurons, and leaving the rest to be creative. (And for me, at least, I can talk aloud to myself when driving, and that seems to help.)
This has, I think, roots in my childhood, when we’d drive to see an aunt a few hours away, or even into the city to shop, a shorter trip. I couldn’t read in the car; it made me carsick, so I’d look out the windows and make up things about what I saw: if this were my farm, I’d paint the fences white, and have ponies. Maybe that road leads to an abandoned village, the houses still standing. I’ll bet owls live in that old barn. Daydreams, but also stories.
I wish cleaning shook loose creativity in the same way; then I’d be doing something else useful at the same time. But sadly it doesn’t. I need a passing landscape: flying doesn’t have the same effect, nor does night driving. Trains are wonderful, but I haven’t much call to take trains in Canada. And the car does need to be taken out occasionally.
The results of today’s drive will keep my work-in-progress focused for some time. But sooner or later I’ll bump up against another problem that will need solving, and off I’ll go.
How do you find your well of creativity?