I’ve traveled by train through the Alps of Switzerland. I’ve sipped coffee under the first snowfall of the Canadian Rockies. I’ve ziplined through the cloud forest of the Guanacaste mountains in Costa Rica. When I think of inspiration, my mind takes me back to these mountains. They were places of absolute beauty, where I felt my heart soar, and my mind immediately wanted to create something beautiful in response. So, on that train through Switzerland, I grabbed pen and paper, and I wrote absolutely nothing.
I could hardly think of a single word. The beauty around me was so stunning and overwhelming, all I could do was sit in wonder. Nothing I could create could even compare.
As it turns out, my fantasy of a writing retreat in the mountains is a terrible idea. Because my very best ideas have come to me when my mind wants to wander away. When I’m stuck in traffic listening to “Old MacDonald” on repeat with two toddlers or folding the third load of laundry that day. My mind begins to wander and suddenly I find myself in another world, as another person, living another life. You could call it plain old escapism, but as a writer, I get to call it inspiration.
And I’m not alone. Plenty of authors online tout the magic of washing dishes, Agatha Christie most famously.
“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”Agatha Christie
Another version of this quote, often credited to her, is: “The best crimes for my novels have occurred to me washing dishes.”
The repetitiveness of these simple chores is mind-numbing and dulling—not words usually used to describe artistic inspiration. Yet, that’s exactly when it happens. When the mind can drift, when it isn’t being spurred on by newness and it must create its own. Whether for the meditative benefits or creative spark, apparently Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are two guys who love doing dishes for similar reasons, according to Insider.
“[Washing dishes] can also be a chance to relax and daydream. And creativity experts say it’s just this sort of loose mind-wandering that allows the brain to make some of its most innovate and unexpected leaps (which is why so many good ideas come to us in the shower).”Insider
Don’t even get me started on shower thoughts. Do they make waterproof journals? I could really use a waterproof journal.
The Magic Spark
The Hope Writers prompt that inspired this post asked about a specific time I felt a creative spark, though. And that’s harder for me to pinpoint.
Ideas seem to form in a fog, slowly revealing themselves until they’re standing there introducing themselves with a crooked grin and a freckle under their left eye. I can’t say exactly when I realized the idea was there, because there were moments early on when I squinted into the fog, wondering if I had seen something, doubting myself, letting it go, looking again, catching sight of a form, still unsure if it was a person or a telephone pole.
Outside of Grace began as a single scene in my mind while I was writing my first novel (the one that lives under the bed, never to see the light of day). It was an ending, a happily-ever-after type of scene that never even remotely fit into the finished product, and I’m not sure when it came to me.
Most inspiration seems to happen while driving, for me. I live on I-35, so I have the luck of spending large amounts of time in traffic. I keep a note on my phone with the latest bits of conversation or description. When a scene floods my mind so desperately it cannot be tapped out at a red light, it becomes a voice memo, like I’m some 1980s detective.
So, as dreamy as the mountainous retreat I plan to retire in sounds, I realize there’s actually great value to living the daily life of a stay-at-home mom. There’s great value in cooking macaroni and cheese yet again, washing the three outfits that were worn that day alone, and scrubbing the floors after potty training. Because in the moments that feel like drudgery, I create.
“One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”Annie Dillard, The Writing life