Shop Talk: Out of Stillness, Inspiration

One of the loudest noises when I sit down at my desk is a ticking clock—the one in my head that tells me I have no time for stillness. This sense of not enough time is anathema to creative work, which depends on the expanding space of stillness, room for relaxed, curious inquiry. The ticking clock in my head not only interferes with my creative process, but becomes harping self criticism—Here comes the deadline and how many words do you have? What are you thinking, taking time out for a long walk?  This nagging occasionally leads me to set a goal of an ideal word count each day, which only amplifies the ticking clock.

I know in my bones that the only way to meet my deadline is to move from noise to stillness, to give myself the space in the moment in which to create. I lean aside to let the time slave rush on past.

From noise to stillness. When I’m pushing and pulling and fighting to rush my process, to get something down on paper, I’ve closed off receptivity. I’ve locked out inspiration, wonder, mystery. When I move into stillness, sometimes all at once I see it all—the interconnections, the threads connecting the characters and events, and how they move forward; this never happens when I’m pushing myself. It seems it’s all about learning how to receive rather than control. I open to the vast universe, it’s all accessible, no boundaries, no ticking clock.

The love story of Alice Perrers and King Edward III opened to me in this way. I’d been putting together a timeline, when Alice met King Edward, when she had her first child with him, when Queen Philippa died, when Edward began exhibiting signs of irrationality. I remember going for a long walk to think about that timeline, and on my return my elder kitty demanded that I lie down on the sofa so he could nap on my chest. It was during that enforced rest after much pondering that I noticed how faithful Alice and Edward were to one another, and how long after she must have seen how he was failing she stayed with him. I saw their liaison from an entirely different perspective from before. Because I stepped out of the busyness of collecting data and plotting and just thought about the whole picture. At that moment the novel The King’s Mistress was conceived. Before that, the book, though under contract, was just a future project about certain people in history.

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