William Blake believed every word he wrote came from God. I’m not so blessed as that. Most of my words come from my imagination.
I’m not convinced distinguishing between imagination and inspiration is critical to our stories or our lives, but it could be, so let’s pursue the question.
In a lecture entitled “Imagination vs. Inspiration,” poet Garcia Lorca maintained that the imagination was a form of logic which could do many things but couldn’t “touch the darker forces of nature or the most incandescent light, or the realm of the unknown.” Imagination, he explained, always works with facts borrowed from the “most clear and precise form of reality.”
In my experience, imagination usually begins with connections. I build Juan out of character traits I’ve witnessed. Then I lock Juan in a broken elevator with Lucy, who may have red hair, and I watch what happens. If it charms or excites me, I write it down.
Or a taste reminds me of a hamburger stand named Jub’s my friend Eric Curtis and I used to frequent. Soon I’m writing a scene that happens in Mission Beach, where Jub’s was located.
But inspiration appears out of nowhere. Or from somewhere we can’t locate. It could be some as of yet unidentified part of our brains. Or it could come direct from God. Whatever the source or path, it manifests itself in moments that can make us gasp in awe of a truth we hadn’t noticed before.
And it usually gives the kind of truth we can’t express in any other terms than the one we’ve just encountered. If we try to analyze, we may sense that this truth comes from beneath, beyond or above our reality.
It’s the kind of truth we find so often in the Bible. The kind that comes clear yet remains a mystery.