Those illusive insights

A cartoon in The New Yorker a number of years ago showed an outdoor market with lettering on a striped canvas awning that read,  Marketplace of Ideas. Another sign hung above a stall right in front: Fresh Insights, .25, or some such price that mockingly undervalued that which cannot be bought for any amount of money.

I cut out the cartoon and had it pinned up near my desk for awhile, and then it went missing. But, even though I have not actually seen it for years, the image slides to the front of my brain when I know something is missing from my story, but I can't think what. Last week I took out a manuscript I thought was ready to submit. No, not yet. There was a breeze blowing through it, and I didn't know where the gaps were, the source of the air that made the whole feel insubstantial.

One thing I do when I hit a problem like that is tell myself that time will cure it; that when I wake up in the morning I will have an idea; it will just come to me. The other thing I do is walk, my favourite place being the path that stretches along and above the waterfront between our neighbourhood and the village. I don't know what it is about physical activity, including walking, but I do know I'm not the only writer who depends on it. Maybe it's just that we need a physical jolting to knock inspiration loose.

Sometimes an idea scoots into consciousness, all clean and brand new and crying, like a baby just born, which is not the cliché it may seem if you've been there. Other times it's like reaching into a box of crackers and coming up with halves or jagged-edge pieces.

I feel I know what's missing from my new novel now, but the next stage, of filling the holes and then smoothing them into the body of the piece so that a reader will never suspect there was anything different, well, that's the challenge. I think I have an idea, but it's glimmering, slippery. I've had my line out for days now and while I might have hooked one, I have to be careful; if I reel in too eagerly, it may drop back into those depths I always picture as watery; I may never land it.

How much easier it would be to run over to that Marketplace of Ideas and see if there are any fresh insights for sale, if money would work or if I would have to make a kind of bargain, like the princess made with Rumplestiltskin.  More comforting perhaps to remember what the late Canadian novelist Robertson Davies said: "I don't get ideas, they get me."