An inspired state of mind reminds me of the dreaming state in one crucial respect: No matter how hard you try and revive the memory of it later, that recollection will never be quite as vivid as the original manifestation. I keep a notebook close by, as often as possible; in my backpack when I’m hiking; beside me at the table in a restaurant or café. The Muse tends to visit me when I’m on the move, when the sounds of life are stretching out all around me and new sights are constantly unveiled before my eyes. She tends to get as bored as me when I’m staring at a computer screen or a blank page.
For this reason, my ideal writing environment isn’t any particular place but rather a state of motion. The source of that motion can either be myself (hiking, walking from one errand to the next) or the life around me (the birds and squirrels, the people conversing at the next table over). Few things lubricate the flow of creative ideas like movement. I think the essence of it is that motion reminds me of the greater human conversation that is happening all around me, all the time; and then I become conscious of the act of writing as my way of joining in that conversation.
It’s as if my thoughts mimic my body’s activities, becoming sedentary when I sit and then tumbling one after the other when I’m on the move. I’ve learned (from the pain of countless great narrative scenes slipped beyond recall) that I’ve got to be prepared to stop and record the moment when that visitation of energy occurs – whether the closest place to sit and jot the words down is a log, a bus stop bench or a picnic table.
There are a lot of activities that can loosen the free-flow of ideas and bring me into contact with that “greater human conversation.” It doesn’t have to be anything as grandiose as a trip to a mountaintop. I might be in the midst of washing dishes when a descriptive paragraph or exchange of dialogue crystallizes in my mind; and then I’ll be running to towel my hands off so I can capture it before it dissipates. It probably works so effortlessly at such times because I’m not standing such strict guard over my own thoughts. Then my consciousness is free to play, and to cook up something tasty for the page.