Imagination and Inspiration: If You Were a Crow or Crocodile or Gorilla . . .

Imagination and Inspiration

By Joseph Éamon Cummins

You’re probably a ‘something’ first – carpenter, teacher, website developer, insurance clerk, fashion model.

But you are also a creative person, even if you think you’re not. Maybe you’re an aspiring novelist or poet or an artist on one kind or another. Or perhaps not, but you see yourself as open-minded, a liberal thinker, or just someone who is definitely not ‘stuck in the mud’.

If you are any of these things, here’s a question for you: How much time do you give to exploiting your inspiration and imagination potential?

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-12-30-20I mean give to developing both of these tools of achievement – inspiration and imagination – for getting things done, or done better.

Or is imagination something you take for granted and inspiration something you wait for? Just ‘automatic magic’ that bears no thinking about?

Tsk, tsk.

Every time I sit down to write about human behaviour I note again the mental kinship between the process of creating – especially when creating for an audience – and psychology.

So what, you ask?

Here’s the point: Imagination and inspiration can be spiked up – and exploited beneficially – through conscious effort. Just like the skills of grammar or computation, which, by the way, you had to learn and refine before they paid you back.

But when was the last time you were offered a course in Imagination or Inspiration?

Probably never.

And the last time you sought one?

Hmm.

Man does not achieve by grammar or computation alone, nor artist by honesty or talent alone, nor worker by education or dedication or sweat alone.

No.

If you are foolish enough to ignore imagination and inspiration, to wait for automatic magic, your best will always be beyond your reach.

This article gives you a few basic techniques you can employ confidently to make sure the ‘arty crowd’ don’t leave you in the dust.

If You Were a Crow or Crocodile or Gorilla . . . I know, a curious title, it sounds more like a bedtime story, but then you are reading this, aren’t you? I wonder why. Perhaps because two imaginations are at work – yours and mine. Orchestrated by the writer! Some might say manipulated. Others would say art. No difference.

But that’s not the whole story. You have more going for you.

Let’s assume here that you’re a writer, artist or ‘creative’ of some kind, in which case your senses are more attuned than other people’s. You see and sense and feel things that others miss because they don’t question or don’t stop long enough to observe or explore or ‘play’.

This is your gift. Have you accepted it? Are you applying it? Are you milking it?

Not consistently, I’d bet. Or not consistently enough. Time to recommit to your gift?

Because your mind is both an instigator (it creates) and a processor of (it packages) inspiration. That sparkling idea you are hoping for can originate entirely within your imagination, obviously, but it might also originate via your senses – something you see or hear or touch or taste or experience. However it’s conceived, the embryonic idea will need to be nurtured by your imagination into a scene, a short story, a book, a painting, a piece of sculpture or music, or even how you might portray a stage character.

This is processing, the imagination at work. Exploit it relentlessly! If you were a crow or crocodile or gorilla you wouldn’t have it.

Exploit it how, you ask?

Explore deeply the ‘ordinary’ things, unlock the core elements others miss. By digging. Note the peculiar way one person looks at another, the language someone uses that fails to hide contempt, the way the stranger’s face reconfigured when her hand touched his cheek, how precisely the woman back-pedalled when the door burst open, and so on. Search for it in the subtext you detect or imagine in a scene, a character, what’s going on under the surface in a novel or play-script or film.

See this as searching out the essence of the thing, whatever the thing. Few dig these depths (creatives excepted, of course) but our audiences are always affected – often unconsciously, often profoundly – by the essences we find and present or even hint at in our work.

So, let’s recap. Successful creatives are observers, keen observers, which is key. When you are calling for inspiration, observe closely that ‘thing’, turn it upside down, transpose it, get inside it, if inanimate bring it to life, ask countless what-ifs, get childlike with it, get silly.

Because silly is smart.

‘Silly’ is simply a word. Playing in your imagination is anything but silly – geniuses do it all the time! Try to capture the essence of what your mind and senses are experiencing – and here’s the unmissable point: do it even when you feel you’ll never use what you discover!

Albert Einstein told how in his mind he rode into outer space on a light beam in order to understand time. This is ‘play’, one of the most productive things you can do with your imagination. Indulge it! (I plan to explore ‘play’ in more depth in future articles.)

As writers and artists we feed our imaginations constantly, with words and images and ideas and their associated emotions. Much of this goes nowhere, or it seems that way. But these pulses of thought, the words and images and ideas and associated emotions, are the raw material of inspiration. I say ‘raw’ because typically they arrive brief and undeveloped, a spark rather than a circuit; their inherent value needs be explored, chiseled into shape, and exploited, because great and even good ideas are rarely born fully clothed.

on the edge of the loch FRONT COVER - large CMYKIn my new novel On the Edge of the Loch, no more than 20% of what I wrote made it into the published book (110k words). Was the unused 80% a waste of effort? Just the opposite! Those unused words and ideas had to be written to get to what hid inside the marble.

You’ve heard the tale of the old lady who asked the museum guide how Michelangelo knew that David was inside the block. Contrary to what you might think, that’s a good question.

How so? Perhaps you’ll find the answer in your own thinking – if not, in this article, or a fusion of both. Dwell long on that answer.

For life is not easy for writer or artist of any stripe, in any era. And few non-artists truly appreciate this. Even fewer know that – despite your talent, despite your wondrous imagination – you bleed for your art.

That’s the price of art. It’s always been so.

Necessarily.

Only by believing, then by constantly searching and producing and selecting and refining, do you validate your gift; you remind yourself that inspiration is all around you, that you create, that that is your calling, that you cannot wait for the muse, that you must be the muse.

So, move!

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Joseph Éamon Cummins, award-winning writer, taught creative writing and psychology for ten years. His critically-acclaimed new novel, On the Edge of the Loch: A Psychological Novel set in Ireland, broke into the Amazon Top 20 (British and Irish literature category) at #13 – http://amzn.to/28XNYT6.

Web: JosephEamonCummins.com.

 

Serious Book, Amusing Emails

Story #1 relates to my new novel On the Edge of the Loch: A Psychological Novel set in Ireland.

STA72206I received an email from a reader, a Canadian man, confessing he had ‘fallen head over heels in love with Cilla’, and asking if he were to visit Ireland, what were his chances of meeting a girl just like her. He sounded entirely serious and wrote well.
But . . . Cilla is a character from the above novel.
How do you respond?
I explained that Cilla is exceptional, like most fictional characters, but that some people say Ireland in real life is full of exceptional characters (it is, like no place else on earth!).
Nonetheless, I did not want to mislead him or cause him to spend money he might not have. So I added a caveat: I told him that in my experience the right person is often just around the corner, and that if he adopts that view, and acts on it, Cilla might be much closer than he thinks – and that I’d start there. Then one day, who knows, I said, maybe he and ‘Cilla’ would visit Ireland together (Tourism Ireland take note).
He hasn’t responded – and might not. So, as we say here, that might be that.

On the Edge of the Loch: A  Psychological Novel set in Ireland can be ordered from Amazon as an eBook or print book – http://amzn.to/28RRRdt – at reduced launch prices.

Joseph Éamon Cummins

Short Bio

Joe. IMG 8452. Polo. Adj Color. Gavin Photo 2014Award-wining author Joseph Éamon Cummins taught creative writing and psychology for ten years, earning multiple Best Professor citations. He now leads workshops internationally in the area of organisational psychology, human achievement and resilience, and occasionally speaks on psychology in fiction writing. He lives in Ireland with his wife, Kathy, and serves clients in the US and Europe.

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on the edge of the loch FRONT COVER - large CMYK
Now Available

On the Edge of the Loch: A  Psychological Novel set in Ireland can be ordered from Amazon as an eBook or Print book at reduced launch prices http://amzn.to/28RRRdt.

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On the Edge of the Loch: Back Cover Copy

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A fleeing man, a woman trapped in long-gone love, a covenant demanding irrational courage . . .

Ten years ago, 17-year-old Tony MacNeill went to the penitentiary for a crime he denied; Lenny Quin was queen of Manhattan art circles, soon to succumb to a mind that stopped working.

They meet in a tiny seafaring village in Ireland. 

Both are obsessive, both exceptional.

Tony’s oath is sworn: become who he was meant to be, belong again to a place, maybe to someone. For Lenny, the future lies entombed in the past; she’s elegant and odd, some say dangerous.

Together, their fire is intimate . . . 

But unnerving events force them apart, and secrets and silence fog what’s true. A strange disappearance and spine-chilling drama draw out old woundings: his taking to the streets at fourteen, soul-deep scarring, compulsive courage; Lenny’s walkout on celebrity in NY, heroic zeal in wartime Iraq, her reclusiveness.

Against all that divides them . . . for all they together might be,

Tony MacNeill will be unstoppable . . . once again.

From Ireland to America to the underbelly of Baghdad, this deeply moving story spins with surprises as it unveils two impassioned people, the extremes they’ll go to, and the frailty and resilience of the human heart.

‘Solemn, resplendent, cinematic . . .’  James Rutherford, Author

‘A journey of heart-stopping moments . . .’  Emma Feix Alberts, Author

Reviews: International Praise for On the Edge of the Loch

New, unmistakably Irish, this is a social and psychological cosmos of evocative writing, the authenticity of J.M. Synge, the thuggery of Brendan Behan . . . one exquisite insight after another into the mind of the protagonist, what it is like to be lost and flawed, maybe insane.

I found it compelling, each chapter a literary or visceral delight; I could neither wait for nor predict the sublime outcome. I commend this work in the strongest way. It has epic qualities.

Jack Engelhard: International Best-Selling Author of Indecent Proposal

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A taut, richly atmospheric tale of romance and redemption set amid the wild grandeur of Ireland’s Atlantic coast. At its heart On the Edge of the Loch is an exploration of hope, the shining possibilities, the harsh limits. Hope is the strand that runs through the lives of almost every character, binding them one to the other, a silvery thread reflecting light in shadow.

Geography is a full-blooded character here, a rejuvenating, life-giving force, and Cummins’ gift for describing it, alternately solemn and resplendent, is as cinematic as the sweep of the land itself.

James Rutherford: Author of Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump (Crossroad Press, 2016)

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This story is dark and frightening and brilliantly bright, with twists and turns like the back roads of its west of Ireland setting.

Just when the author gives you enough to let you think you have figured out the two lead characters, here comes another of those perplexing but pleasing turns, and heart-pounding action scenes to increase the stakes and your nervousness. On my second read I will take more time to appreciate the creative turns of phrase that seem the gift of the Irish. And I’ll listen again for rhythms of other Dubliners, like James Joyce. Yes, it will be worth the second read.

Dick Noble: Author of The Adventures of Mousco Polo 

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I read a book with the anticipation of a journey that will take me out of the ordinariness of life, into places unknown. On The Edge Of The Loch gifted me this and so much more. I feel fortunate to be asked to read an advance copy. The reader is introduced to characters who immediately feel alive; you truly care about them. I found very early that I had become a part of the story, continually imagining the climax (with anxiety), hoping I had foreseen what lay ahead. I hadn’t! 

The book lived up to all the big expectations it built up in me – it’s a journey of heart-stopping moments, not without romance and tenderness. What a great movie or TV series this would make!

Emma Feix Alberts: Author of All That Is Familiar

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On the Edge of the Loch builds its deeply focused qualities around one seemingly simple concept: Leave the reader wanting more. This is what each chapter accomplishes as the plot becomes more complicated with each new psychological twist.

Cummins’ gift lies not only in his ability to weave a theme through intricate wording and exquisite characterisation, he presents layer upon layer to force the reader to constantly question. What appears at first as conventional perspectives on love, moves far beyond cliché with surprising results. In the tradition of Thomas Hardy, Cummins blends the Irish landscape with psychological intrigue to produce a truly compelling read.

Daniel R. Flinn: Author of Dancing with the Ants

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A story as inspiring as it is original, full of brooding, suspense, tension, complex character relationships, the superiority of new dreams. But it’s also a romance. In many scenes the music of Riverdance played in my head, words dancing off the page, beautiful poetic language, nothing short of startling at times; and the scene at the cottage with Lenny and her mother is haunting.

This is simply a beautifully crafted story, compelling and original. I was transported back in time to many happy visits to Ireland.

Amanda Clowes: Cambridge, England

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Cummins delivers at a forceful pace the near cursedly indomitable spirit at the very essence of what it is to be Irish. His characters range from the living souls of its city streets to the mercurial, earthy and embracing denizens of its rugged coastline. This ‘hero’s journey’ is a tapestry woven from themes jagged and brutal, forgiving and abiding. You can touch the texture of the thoughts and feelings of Cummins’ characters. Above all, though, it’s honest, unpretentious, and unapologetic. A very good read . . . one very memorable tale.

Robert S. Galasso: Vancouver, Canada

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From start to finish I was captivated – by the main characters, the scenes in Dublin, western Ireland and America, all presented in such vivid terms. I loved how the writer describes the emotions of the characters; I felt I was almost part of their souls.

At times you think you know where the writer is bringing you, then you realise you don’t have a clue! It’s a compelling love story, with a backdrop of the complexity of relationships and life experiences. If you love a novel full of raw emotion and fantastic characters, this is for you!

Janet Mooney: Dublin, Ireland

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A vivid picture of the human condition, it left me wondering what became of the characters as their lives went on. Many aspects of human life are alluded to: the utter inhumanity of war, the hopelessness of incarceration, unbridled self-sacrifice, etc.

The author draws upon powerful imagery to illustrate challenges that can seldom be altered. References to Mweelrea, the enchanting yet foreboding mountain, reinforce the enormity of the task facing protagonists Tony and Lenny. But Leo and Cilla’s selfless qualities lift the novel. This examination of loss and its impact upon those who have yet to fully understand how their lives have been affected by it, provides the reader with many layers to ponder.

Nigel Castle: Ely, Cambridgeshire, UK


Joseph Éamon Cummins, an award-winning writer, taught creative writing and psychology for ten years. His new novel On the Edge of the Loch: A Psychological Novel set in Ireland is available on Amazon in print or ebook – http://amzn.to/28RRRdt.

 

New Release Includes Book Club and Teacher/Student Guide

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Joseph Éamon Cummins, an award-winning writer, taught creative writing and psychology for ten years. His new novel On the Edge of the Loch: A Psychological Novel set in Ireland is available on Amazon in print or ebook – http://amzn.to/28RRRdt..

Contains a 10-page Guide for Book Clubs, Teachers, and Writing Students. Plus, an in-depth interview with the author.

Getting the Psychology Right

As with all psychological novels, one of the biggest challenge with On the Edge of the Loch was building discrete mindsets and personalities for about ten important characters. Each must think, act, and decide differently from all others, and each must have something significant to win or lose in the plot – ‘skin in the game’, as they say.

Despite my work in psychology, this was still quite a task, but an enjoyable one.

I will write more about ‘getting the psychology right’ soon – of particular importance to writers, but nonetheless vital for a novel to be credible to the reader.

Finally, some people tend to confuse two terms: ‘psychological novel’ and ‘psychological thriller’. They’re not the same thing, though the media often don’t seem to notice.

The psychological novel explores the mental and emotional drivers of behaviour – what makes people do what they do and be what they are, and in this way shapes the storyline. The psychological thriller typically focuses on criminal behaviour, victims, police, killers, psychopaths and such like – a different genre.

Both types of novel can be edgy and thrilling, just not via the same ingredients. However, usually the psychological novel requires deeper engagement by the reader; the events of the story need to be thought about – because much less is ‘told’, guessable, or apparent.

JÉC


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All Writers Suffer Writer’s Block – Don’t They?

IMG_1740No. They don’t. Those who do – probably the majority – are led there or kept there, at least in part, by conditioning. When your peers, media, and other influencers keep talking and writing about it, and how hard it is to escape, you may come to expect it, even accept it – unconsciously. Which is the proverbial self-fulfilling prophecy.

I have listened to (literally) hundreds of writers describe their experiences with writer’s block. No one solution will work for every writer; that’s true. But there are a few proven remedies any writer can try. All start with putting the mind to work against it.

Incidentally, I saw a post recently that was titled something like ’47 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block’. This kind of ‘list article’ is, at best, interesting. More likely, it worsens the problem it’s trying to solve. First, what thoughts does this put in your mind? How many of the 47 ways will you have to try in order to find one that works? And in practice, will you keep trying after three fail? After ten fail? I doubt it. What then will you conclude about writer’s block? That it’s infinitely complex, that it might take forever to find a remedy? This is the risk – often unseen – that’s inherent in the 47-ways type article.

Here’s a different approach, with much better odds.

Writer’s block is a mental phenomenon, ideas are all around us, we have fertile minds, we’re competent scribes, yet somehow an internal obstacle is stopping the flow of good ideas.

From my work in behaviour (I’m an organisational psychologist) I have learned – and tested over time – two approaches that have proved successful for many of the writers with whom I have worked.

Remedy 1: Begin writing another story (presuming you’re a fiction writer)! This is what I advise first. Start another story (or scene) with no plan for how long you will continue, and be genuine and committed in what you write. There’s a good chance that what needs to click will click, and your block will disappear. The bonus here is that you may be creating your next project, or a new scene for your current work.

Remedy 2: Begin ‘automatic writing’ on a blank sheet of writing paper. Some writers find that writing by hand re-fires the brain faster (alternatively, start typing at your keyboard). Let your hand write without directing it – anything that comes along. You’ll probably start out with no faith in this approach. Do it anyway. Give your brain an opportunity to surprise you, which it can do. The fact is, our unconscious mind is often smarter than our conscious mind (what we think we know) but we typically stifle it with ‘logic’.

At minimum, keep an open mind. If you remain cynical, chances are you will blunt your own progress. The question to ask, and answer, is this: Are you hurting enough, right now, to start tunnelling your way out?

Reject your disbelief; it’s just resistance masquerading as intelligence. Give an honest try to Remedy 1 or Remedy 2. And see what happens.

You have little to lose. What might you gain?


Joseph Éamon Cummins, an award-winning writer, taught creative writing and psychology for ten years. His new novel On the Edge of the Loch: A Psychological Novel set in Ireland is available on Amazon in print or ebook – http://amzn.to/28RRRdt

The Question Everyone Asks: What Sparked Me to Write On the Edge of the Loch?

A particular incident did spark my new novel. Here’s how I recount it in the opening pages of the book:

Dear Reader . . .

One late-summer evening a long time ago,

in a little picturesque train station,

I noticed a graceful young woman sitting alone;

she looked to be waiting for someone.

Over the next week I re-visited the station on

five occasions to photograph it in different light.

The woman was there every time,

still waiting.

On the day I was leaving, our eyes engaged,

a moment of silent conversation;

she smiled, seemed about to say something.

Then her head dropped, she turned away.

I never saw her again.

Never knew why she was there or who she longed for.

But she inspired this novel.

I couldn’t make her the main character,

she’s too much of a mystery.

So I wrote a bigger story around a driven man,

and married the two.

Thanks for reading it.

I think you’ll be glad you did.


Joseph Éamon Cummins, an award-winning writer, taught creative writing and psychology for ten years. His new novel On the Edge of the Loch: A Psychological Novel set in Ireland is available on Amazon in print or ebook – http://amzn.to/28RRRdt