Writers love the aha moment, the shriek of eureka, the epiphany-producing breakthrough, the gravity of the apocryphal apple falling on one’s head.

The exquisite flash of revelation and insight afforded by a creative leap, the illumination of a new connection that is so bright and shiny and real that it has the power to bridge a divide and pull your protagonist through.

It can bubble up like a what-about-a-water-bottle in the bath, shock you into wakefulness at three in the morning, spring fully formed into your mind on a run or while pushing a trolley down an aisle.

But it can not and does not come out of the blue. The flash of creative inspiration is not randomly bestowed by a capricious muse.

It is the result of the thousands of hours of deliberate practice that you devote to your calling. Not just the writing, but the related pursuits of reading, day-dreaming and thinking critically about your work.

Melina Marchetta says she listens to her characters, sometimes for months, before putting pen to paper. Markus Zusak says that it’s hard to believe that when he spends half the day staring into space, he’s actually working. Kate Morton calls it the ‘cauldron’ phase – when you are working, but not actually writing.

The headlong rush to publish makes some writers afraid to marinate their work and let the ingredients meld and simmer in the creative juices.

Don’t be afraid.

Prepare your mind. Research and read widely, visit a gallery, listen to music, stare at the stars, and trust the unconscious to do its job. Make those new connections. You might be surprised at what bubbles to the surface.

‘Chance favours the prepared mind’ Louis Pasteur

  1. Karen Brooks says:

    Great post, Chris – and so true! I think of that period, the simmering phase, as akin to looking through a kaleidescope – you know, you twist the mechanism and everything is pretty, colourful but incredibly jumbled. Sometimes you keep twisting, the elements rearrange themseves, but it’s still not right for you. Then, one-day, from the spectacular jumble a wonderful pattern emerges – it makes sense. You, the writer, see it as a whole. Yes, the ‘aha’ moment :))) Love it. Hope you have many, Chris! xx

    • chrisbongers says:

      Karen, the kaleidescope is just the most wonderful analogy for the simmering phase of the writing process – Hope you don’t mind, but I am going to quote you on that! xx

  2. Lynne Green says:

    This is very timely. I had a strike of the ‘a-ha!’ moment in the last week. It takes a lot of research to get to that point. How wonderful to see it celebrated!

    And what was my flash of inspiration? A Victorian botanist called Alice – who thinks her plants can ‘talk’ to her.

  3. Gus Gordon says:

    AND? What was the revelation Chris? Probably can’t say I guess.

    I am really good at looking out the window. I spend a lot of time doing precisely this. When I’m working on a book and I encounter a problem that needs solving, it’s always there moving about with me like a cloud above my head. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, it just sits there ready for some subconscious interjection that will help join the dots. You’re right Chris, it never comes out of the blue. It normally emerges out of some serious mulling over. Often, I’m not in my studio when the revelation happens. Quite often I’m in the shower of all places.

  4. Lyn says:

    Insightful post, Chris. I like that you articulate how much work actually does go into those ‘Eureka’ moments. Nothing is free, even blinding flashes of insight.

  5. So true, Chris.
    Sometimes the biggest hurdle is trusting that things really are meshing together in the mind-jumble and when it’s ready, out it will jump with glee.
    Love those delicious moments of ‘aha’ that make writing so exciting. And I loved Kate’s reference to the cauldron too!

  6. I have ‘Aha’ moments and then I have ‘WAHHHH Ha’ moments. I like the former better. And I love the marinating process. I’m steeping as we speak. Great post, Chris. I’m reading the Book Thief now and have been known to stare out the window often after reading some of his passages, and think “Wow” wish I’d written that!
    Have to admit, the shower is my favourite portal for a creative download. And when I’m swimming. There must be something in the water.

  7. chrisbongers says:

    Oh Lynn, don’t we all have those Wahhh-ha moments. Between those and the A-ha ones, a writer’s life is one constant roller-coaster. I’m more a bed-person, though. That’s where I do my heavy-duty imaginings. In comfort!

  8. Trudie Trewin says:

    My cauldron is called ‘my grey womb’. The place where brain waves go to develop some sort of form. So I guess the aha moment must be the birth – hmm, the only time it would be nice to be an octo-mum I guess!

  9. chrisbongers says:

    The brain as a grey womb – love it, Trudie. That would explain why getting a work out can be so damn painful!

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