Now go outside and look at the sky.
In The Mind's Eye
Since I had become a conscious consumer of stories as a teenager - reading novels, watching movies - I have always been fascinated by the process by which these imaginary worlds had been created. Whenever there was a Making-Of documentary I was glued to the TV. If I found an article where a writer talked about their creative process I was spellbound.
It feels to me like the ultimate creative process, a person sitting somewhere, their focus turned inward, bringing a whole new universe into existence. A world unlike ours - or maybe just like it - where anything could happen, where people that never existed suddenly appear on stage, with rich inner lives, desires and emotions.
Writers often describe how the characters on the page suddenly take over and lead the story in directions not anticipated by the author. This thought - that the fiction become so real that the author loses control over it - was incredible to me. I often tried to imagine how this would feel. How was this possible?
About a decade ago, I somewhat unexpectedly took part in NaNoWriMo and I had suddenly embarked on an imaginary adventure that would take my characters all the way to China.
The concept behind NaNoWriMo is that the participants write every day - hellbent on achieving between 1000 and 2000 words per day to complete at least 50000 words in one month.
There is not much time to think or edit - it is all about picking up the story every day and pushing the characters down along their path. At least, for the first few days it felt like pushing the characters and the story forward.
And then... something amazing happened.
After about a week, my characters had settled in. The story was flowing along, possibilities for a solid middle part of the novel were opening up. And then suddenly my characters had a conversation with each other and it were not my words.
My characters had ideas. They were acting on their own impulses.
I kept writing, literally as fast as I could, so that I wouldn't fall behind. It was like an out-of-body experience, but I was inside my imaginary world following my imaginary characters.
I realized at this moment that this was it. This was what all those authors had been describing. Not only had my characters taken over, but the story was also moving in a completely unexpected direction. I was along for the ride. I could of course still outmaneuver the story if I absolutely needed to, but at this point it was actually much easier to let it all play out.
These moments lasted for a few days at a time. In between I had to engineer rough patches and figure out what to do when it all got stuck. But several times during that month I got the story to fly again and the characters were jumping off the pages, running circles around me as they took over and did the unexpected. It was exhilarating!
Since then I have been able to do this a few times also with other stories, but I'm still not able to just create this creative spark on demand. Suddenly one of the characters just gets up, tired of waiting for the writer - me - to come up with words and the character will say or do something unexpected.
Now all bets are off. My carefully laid out plot is immaterial.
All I can do is sit back and write as fast as I can.