“When you're writing, you're conjuring. It's a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is you're inviting into the room.”
Tom Waits is an American singer/songwriter who strings together lyrics like handmade beads on a thread. Sometimes they're large and sometimes small. There may seem to be no rhyme or reason between them. And yet, they cause an energetic explosion in your heart. Here's an example from his song, “Time”:
“...And they all pretend they're Orphans
And their memory's like a train
You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away
And the things you can't remember
Tell the things you can't forget that
History puts a saint on every train...”
What seems to be simple stream of consciousness, holds together to make a powerful impact. That is Waits getting out of the way of his muse, so to speak. All good writing, good art, good music is like that, and most folks who make their living that way will agree. It is as though whatever it is comes through you, and not from you. Elizabeth Gilbert personifies it, saying inspiration is a living thing that roams around looking for human beings who will pay attention and allow it to speak itself. If one person doesn't pick up that inspiration and run with it, it leaves to find someone else who will. Waits compares it to crows building a nest. If you watch them too closely, they'll build a fake nest and leave it there for you to observe while they go build the real one.
We have an inspired idea that we see clearly one moment, but then allow the pragmatist within to get between us and it, telling us, “That's a ridiculous idea! You can't do that!” Inspiration slips away because we over-think it; we want to control it, tell it what to say, how to look. It doesn't work that way. It's a zephyr, a tiny slip of a thing. You can't capture it; you have to follow where it leads and trust that it knows the way. It takes courage, and, as Waits says, respect. If an inspired idea has come to you, it's because you're the one chosen to represent it. It's an honor.
It doesn't matter if you're inspired idea is to write a piece of music, or to paint your doors yellow, as my cousin, Sandy, just did. If you have the courage to follow its direction, you'll be happy you did. To inspire, after all, means to “en-spirit” or “to fill with spirit.” And, that's always a good thing.
In the Spirit,