I want to share one little epiphany from this manual called Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight. It’s about you and Fred.
Knight says when you eventually do write well, people will constantly ask you where you get your ideas from.
“My answer is, ideas are everywhere. If you’re looking for something all the time, no matter what it is, you’ll find it. I don’t think this answer satisfies people, although it is true as far as it goes. What they really want to know is, ‘how do you do this miraculous thing?’ And there is no way to tell them; but I am going to tell you.”
He goes on to explain that there are two parts of our mind, never mind about hemispheres right or left, or lobes front and back. Forget about anatomically what part of the actual organ- who cares? Some call it conscious and unconscious, but Knight thinks unconscious is the wrong thing to call it.
“It isn’t unconscious, it just has trouble communicating. ‘The silent mind’ would be better, maybe, or ‘the tongue-tied mind,’ but I prefer to call it ‘Fred.’ ”
The conscious mind thinks logically, but Fred works in webs of association. Our logical mind can speak to Fred directly, but Fred gets back to us indirectly, via things like dreams and intuitions. When we are thinking about a creative problem, our conscious mind is directing a message to Fred. Then we have to wait. Because Fred needs time to process and get back to us, and when he finally does, the answer seems like the ghostly form of an idea or a sudden realization.
“But if Fred isn’t ready, don’t push. If you do, you are like a chess player who keeps telling his partner what moves to make. If that goes on long enough, of course your partner is going to say, ‘Well play by yourself then.’ And there you are, making moves by yourself. (Serves you right.)”
It’s up to the logical mind to string the revelations Fred offers together in a sensible way, to explain the missing parts and inconsistencies. That’s not Fred’s wheelhouse. It’s a rookie mistake to get excited about the inspirations from Fred but to fail to do the necessary work of rationalization to connect the dots. Fred majors in meaning: symbolism, images, story shapes. The logical mind must then use rationalization to make it all work together because stories require a kind of superficial realism to get past the censor of the reader’s mind, which makes rationalization the vehicle for meaning.
You have to eventually use the ideas Fred comes up with or else Fred gets discouraged and thinks you hate him and won’t work on new ideas. To be productive, Fred also requires a lot of stimuli to knock together: strange esoteric facts, insights from others, specimens to handle, reading, experiences, and interactions of all kinds.
“Critics talk about ‘the well of inspiration,’ and they say that the well sometimes runs dry. What this means, in my opinion, is either that the author is feeling the lack of stimulating input, or that she has not given Fred time enough to think about the problem.”
So go ahead and drop a question or an unsolved seed of an idea in for Fred to work on. Pay attention to life all around you, collect interesting information, and read regularly. Practice listening for the aha moments or the quiet impressions, and capture them and refine them. Tell Fred when he’s brilliant and when he’s a little off target today, so he can have another go at it, and eventually, you and Fred are going to be delighted with what you can do together.