... the singer decided to quit the music industry after a harrowing European tour, and set off to write a novel [*taking the easy option then!*] in a cabin in the middle of nowhere ... [He] wanted to do nothing much apart from avoid writing another song, but soon after arriving he ... grabbed a pencil and started scribbling.The rest is history.
It's all to do with something called alpha waves. This isn't the place for a detailed examination of the theory - and if it were I'm not the person to do it. It's controversial of course, but seems to be backed up by some scientific research.
As Armstrong says,
In a process that has yet to be understood, these [waves] suddenly flood the right brain roughly eight seconds before an idea pops into the mind ... It is alpha waves that fire up when jazz pianists are playing [*I find that amazing*]. ... According to Lehrer, Dylan's frustration and isolation combined to trigger the right hemisphere of his brain, which drew all his disparate influences into one catchy song.As I said, I'm not going to attempt to take on the science of this, but it does chime with my own experiences as a writer, and as a practitioner and teacher in theatre. In fact, although I'm primarily a writer now, I find I'm constantly going back to what I learned in acting - obviously about role building, but more fundamentally about creativity itself.
Armstrong's thesis is that the capacity for creativity is there in all of us, waiting to be triggered by the right conditions. Stanislavsky understood that. He said that an actor should believe in the life of their character, as a child believes in the life of her doll. We are all born with the ability and desire to role play, to make marks and sounds and to move experimentally and joyfully, and to tell stories. These abilities get locked in by society's expectations and judgement: you are are weird if you continue to do these things, unless you have unusual ability.
I once watched a young actor perform. He was academically bright and took an analytical approach to his work, which was often sadly a bit wooden. This time he was just helping out a friend by playing against her for her assessment, and so not trying too hard. The result was one of the most moving pieces of theatre I've ever seen in the classroom. Freed of over-intellectualising, he produced something with real truth.
So what are the right conditions to produce that kind of magic? If only I knew, then I'd be able to bottle it. Armstrong quotes a number of different suggestions, some conflicting, some illegal. I'm with him totally on one: there's nothing like going for a walk to get the wheels in my head turning.
One thing I'm sorry the article doesn't address is what happens after the moment of inspiration. Novels take a long time to write. If you're constantly waiting for something from outside (actually inside) yourself to provide the impetus, progress is going to be slow. The gift needs to be nurtured.
What do you think?