An Ongoing Courtship with Inspiration

There is a line early on in the run of the television show Mad Men, where Don Draper is giving some advice to Peggy Olson. She’s having trouble coming up with something interesting and fresh for an ad campaign, and Don tells her “Just think about it, deeply, and then forget it. An idea will…jump up in your face.” This line has been in my mind a lot lately, mainly because it has become one of the unsung heroes of our process here at Gelineau and King. So I thought I would talk about that here.
You see, that right there is one of Joe’s super powers, and to be honest, it is one that I don’t think he fully realizes he has. The concept of focusing on something, working an idea through over and over and still not being fully satisfied with what you’re finding is something that happens a lot to people who do creative work. It happens to us all the damn time. The big thing though is that now, I have come to rely on the fact that Joe will “Don Draper” that problem. Like every time.

Here’s usually how it happens.

We’ll be standing around outside, maybe the office , or maybe outside a restaurant. Standing around by our cars. I think this is a hold over from when we both used to smoke (Don’t judge. Both been quit for years). We’ll be standing there, and trying to solve whatever our latest creative conundrum is. We’ll talk back and forth, trade ideas, shoot most of them down. Ultimately, every time, we’ll give in and say we’ll deal with it tomorrow. And then, we’ll say goodbye, and I will drive home.

Now, normally on my way home, I call my wife and talk to her during part of the drive. But if we are stuck on an idea, I don’t call her. I drive, I listen to my podcasts or audiobooks, and above all, I wait. I wait for that phone call that I know will come.

When it does, i always laugh, and answer. And Joe says “I think I got it. How about…” And then, he will pitch something that is just right. Sometimes that “just right” is elegant and simple. Sometimes, its nuts and kinda frightening. But every time, it seems to be exactly what we need to go forward. This idea won’t always see print in the exact way that it gets pitched to me on those car ride conversations, but they always are exactly what is needed to move us beyond what was stopping us.

Now this is an amazing thing, and it happened just the other day, as we were looking at revising the ending to our third novella. It got me thinking about some of the stuff we’ve learned. In writing together for over a year, and especially since we’ve really gotten serious, Joe and I have had a number of moments like this one. I don’t mean the car ride revelation. I mean that we’ve learned, together, how sometimes when we can’t figure out the solution to stuff, instead of beating our heads over it or getting frustrated, we’ve learned to push it and move on to other issues that we can figure out then and there.

When I brought this up to Joe, he broke it down pretty succinctly. He said, writing anything, especially something novella length, takes a ton of decisions and a ton of inspiration. You can forcibly will most of that inspiration to come, and the rest, you have to trust that you can “Draper” it. If you allow yourself to stop your progress because you got stuck on one idea/thing, then you’ll never get it finished.

So we’ve learned, and are still learning, to identify what can be figured out in the moment, and what to leave for later. What things that just work better when we leave them alone and then trust in that eleventh hour car-ride conversation to bring it all the way home. And then maybe, just maybe, that idea will “jump in your face.”

So, I’m adding this to the long list of things I am learning about not just writing in general, but us as writers in particular.

-Mark

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