Recently, while working on my current science fiction project, I had some mysteries to solve. I knew my main character well, and I knew our destination, but a thick fog lay across the road up ahead. There were crucial things to discover about the landscape before I could make progress.
Then one morning I woke up knowing exactly what was there. Who was doing what and why. I was able to open my manuscript, skip ahead, and write a key scene.
The next morning, I woke up and saw things at yet a deeper level. I thought I’d have to go back to the opening pages and fix the scenes there in order to accommodate the new realization, but when I re-read those first scenes, they were perfect. The groundwork had already been laid.
It wasn’t the content of my dreams that revealed these insights, but seemingly the act of awakening. Insight—the aha moment—can arrive in many different contexts. Interestingly, experiments in solving strategies shows insight solutions are correct more often than analytic solutions (an article by that name was published by Carola Salvi et. al. in the journal Thinking & Reasoning, vol. 22, issue 4, 2016).
Famously, Kafka had a sign above his desk that said “wait.” His advice: “Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Personally, I’m relieved I can often sit down with a fairly clear idea, and write myself from point A to point B without needing to rely on a strong aha to get me there. Is this a question of “craft” versus “art”? I don’t think so. Rather, insight is a wonderful gift to the creatively needy. And while it’s nice to know it has been detected in the laboratory, it remains one of those ungraspable mysteries.