Sunday, October 16, 2011

In the Bath

CONFESSION: I actually wrote this post back in 2009 for my Not-A-Blog, but just last night while sitting in my bathtub I again had one of those amazing moments when all the pieces of a tricky plot point came together, and while I was hastily jotting down notes on the soggy bits of paper that I keep beside the tub for just that purpose, I remembered this old post and thought I'd put it up again for those who missed it...

A little while ago I happened to be reading a review of former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s memoir,
The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, in which the reviewer quoted Greenspan as saying, ‘To this day the bathtub is where I get many of my best ideas.’ It turns out that Greenspan wrote most of his memoirs, in fact, while immersed in the bath, and that he’s in the habit of doing this. As Greenspan’s wife, Andrea Mitchell, explained to a reporter: ‘He first started soaking in the tub because of his bad back. He found it was good quiet time to have uninterrupted focus to marshal his ideas.’ And why does this interest me, I hear you asking?

Because for some years now, whenever I come to a difficult place in my writing, the first thing I do is to run a hot bath. An hour or so of soaking and my characters inevitably stir and start to talk, and I emerge with scribbled water-spotted pages filled with random bits of dialogue and thoughts for scenes, enough to get my story moving. I never really mentioned this to anyone, because I assumed it was simply a personal quirk of mine, the predictable result of listening to too much Flanders and Swann in my childhood. But since reading the Greenspan review I’ve been Googling round, and I’ve learned that I’m far from alone in my habit. In fact, I appear to belong to a whole club of bath-loving writers with members as varied as Benjamin Franklin and Agatha Christie. And while I don’t know whether Vladimir Nabokov wrote in his bath, he did write a piece in the Saturday Review on the subject of Inspiration, stating openly, ‘Some prefer the bathtub to the study...’

So there you are. Why I’m inspired in the bathtub I really don’t know, though I privately suspect that the effects of lying neck-deep in warm water with the white noise of the bathroom fan obscuring outside sound comes fairly close to the experience of lying in an isolation tank – sometimes called a ‘sensory deprivation tank’ – in which most people’s brainwaves slow to a speed known as ‘theta’, the daydreaming state that falls somewhere between relaxed ‘alpha’ and sound-asleep ‘delta’. My creative subconscious, in other words, gets time to play. It’s a theory, at any rate.

Where do YOU find inspiration?

Be sure to come back Thursday to read Julie's post.


  1. For me it's a walk or the tub...

  2. Liz, I'd probably go for more walks myself if I lived where you lived (and had the *ahem* neighbours to bump into...)

  3. Mine has been a walk but was thinking this morning that I hadn't had a bath in ages (am a shower person). I think I'll try it next time.

  4. Walking for me too, or just lying on the bed listening to music on my iPod. Going to the cinema can help too, no idea why as I'm supposed to be concentrating on the film!

  5. You guys are all so much more active than I am :-) Mind you, when I lived in Wales I walked all the time, too. Must be the British air, or something...

    Brigid, the bath thing is really amazing for me. It rarely fails.