Sorry, I just had a vision of William Hurt suspended upside down with snakes on his face and various flashing lights, but that isn’t what this is about at all, and anyway, that’s Ken Russell for you.
What I was actually thinking about is how often an altered state of mind can help in writing fiction. In 2009 I was on a meditation retreat in Italy. At the time I had been working on my second novel. It was going ok but the plot lacked something dynamic. I had put all thoughts of writing aside for the retreat and was meditating one day in the lovely converted chapel which was our shrine. Suddenly, unbidden, the solution to the main plot problem came into my mind. Even afterwards it seemed perfect (and does to this day) but I hadn’t sought it, if anything I was probably battling the pain in my knees.
And this wasn’t the only time. Often in my morning meditation, a sentence that I have written the day before will be presented to me in a better form (and then there is the battle of whether to write it down or continue meditating)
There was a fashion in the 60s and 70s, of thinking that the only real writers were drunk ones and that getting pissed or high on drugs was the best way to access the inner writing daemon. A quote from Aubrey’s Brief Lives in a recent article in The Guardian described how drunk Ben Jonson was whenever he sat down to write: “He would many times exceed in drinke (Canarie was his beloved liquour); then he would tumble home to bed and, when he had thoroughly perspired, then to studie.’ I’ve tried this but my handwriting got so bad I couldn’t even read it after, (but I’m sure it was genius).
Charles Dickens used to go for a good old-fashioned walk: pounding the heath and talking to the various characters in his head. Stephen King listens to loud heavy metal music. Jenny Colgan suggests having a bath (it wasn’t personal).
I guess this is all just another way of talking about accessing a ‘muse’. It doesn’t seem to be something that can be forced. Occasionally I’ll find that while writing I can see the next few sentences ahead of me and there is a race to get them down in time. The sensation is a little like being in a trance. For the most part, however, it’s just good old plodding along putting one word in front of another.