Of geese and golden eggs
No doubt you’re familiar with the old fairy tale of the goose and the golden eggs. Every day the goose would lay one egg of solid gold. The poor family to whom the goose belonged managed to live quite well on this boon and grew in material and social stature. But they decided they weren’t growing richer fast enough so they thought that if they killed the goose and cut it open, they would have access to the entire store of gold within. When they did so, however, they found that the goose was just like any other goose on the inside. Thus their greed caused them to lose everything.
I take a similar wary approach to whatever creative process I possess. I can soldier along, forcing plots and characters from my brain, looking for inspiration and insight everywhere, and spending many hours sweating blood at the keyboard, but it’s those unbidden moments of creative realization, those epiphanies that provide me with exactly the right solution or twist or bit of dialog that make the real difference in my writing. These are my golden eggs.
I take these as gifts from whatever muse indulges me. I don’t expect them. I don’t demand them. I don’t go looking for them. (I’m not sure where I would go to find them.) They tend to pop into my head at unlikely moments, fully formed and ready for use, nearly perfect fits for whatever writing or plotting conundrum I face.
I realize, of course, that though I may grow frustrated with some writing difficulty, my subconscious mind continues to work on it. And it seems as though when the solution is worked out in that unruly, subterranean part of my brain, it gets coughed up for my conscious self to put to use. I can’t command this to happen. I never see it coming. The process doesn’t work to any schedule that I know of. Sometimes these epiphanies come to me within days of when I first face a writing problem. In other cases, years may pass before the gift is bestowed.
The plot resolution for the novel I am currently working on, The Sleep of Reason, came to me perhaps five years after I gave up on the original short story I had in mind. I had an interesting premise, but I didn’t know where to go with it. But I suppose the idea kept cooking in some out-of-the-way corner of my brain, and when the basic problem was solved, the solution “came to me.” Of course a lot of details need to be worked out, but I can’t seem to write the story fast enough.
I don’t pretend to explain or even understand whatever mental mechanism is at work here, but that’s my point after all. I don’t think I want to know. I suspect that my subconscious self works by its own rule book and won’t submit to conscious, rational scrutiny. Is it supernatural? No, of course not. But is it rational? Perhaps not in the way we generally think. And if I try to plumb those murky depths, cast light on their workings and impose some sense or order on them so I can call on the process when I need it, I fear I will slay whatever part of me lays the golden eggs, so to speak.
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