James Brown fans will see a reference, of course. Even if the reference wasn't that word-for-word: it was something that came up the other night in discussion of a new, as-yet-untitled project with my friend Steve. "I'm feeling something there," he said. For someone as systematic, rigorous, and logical as he is, to say he feels something there is high praise. It means whatever it is, it cut through his defenses and hit an emotional note.
In the other post I mentioned the Buddhist concept of prajna, which like a lot of the rest of Buddhism can fall victim to some really bad translations. The best I've been able to make of prajna is that it's a kind of intuitive wisdom or sussing of things (the grognards in the audience will probably say "dig" or "grok"), but not just a plain old gut reaction. It's a kind of intuition you develop about things that only arises after a lot of quieting down of one's inner voices, so that the thing-in-itself can reach you all the more unobstructedly. It's insight with as little ego as possible dirtying it up.
One of the things I noticed myself doing after I started zazen practice was how much easier it was to ask myself tough introspective questions about my reactions to things. Some time back I did an on-camera interview segment for work, and I was somewhat wound up about it — I'd never done something in this exact vein before, and I knew it. And as soon as I admitted that to myself completely, and said "Oh, so this sweat and butterflies is just that, it's not actually because the thing is really all that hard," it became a lot easier. But I had to first admit it to myself, and thus put down the part of myself that always insists it's right, and just listen to my own reactions. It was literally like hearing the sound of my own voice ringing in a room after I'd just said something intemperate.
Creative work is always personal and idiosyncratic, and so maybe it's not the kind of thing you can subject readily to this sort of selfless scrutiny. If I sit real still and look at how I feel about something I'm working on, sometimes that will allow me to see clearly things about it that I know need improvement, but which I've otherwise been loathe to admit to myself. But it isn't magic; it doesn't automatically turn a bad book into a good one. It does let you be more honest with yourself, as a consequence of realizing that your "self" is mostly a convenient fiction developed for the sake of navigating the rest of the world.
Over the course of the last couple of books I can remember at least one incident in each where some particular thing I'd put into the story felt intuitively wrong to me, even if I "knew" they had a "reason" to be there. The more I thought about it, the further apart those two feelings became: the "rational" part of me that said Keep it, because X, Y, and Z became more shrill and stentorian in its insistence; but the "intuitive" part of me that said No, get rid of it, it doesn't work only grew calmer and more self-assured. Eventually I learned to listen to that voice without prejudice when it spoke, and to take action sooner according to its advice. It was such a voice that told me I needed to stop about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of Fall Of The Hammer, start over, and make some major changes that simply couldn't wait for a second draft, because the first draft would have been impossible to complete anyway. It was the same voice that told me to get rid of a couple of scenes that ultimately had no justifiable function in another book, or to add a scene that needed to be there in yet another.
And yes, it was the same voice that spoke to me when re-reading my first draft of Shunga-Satori, that told me what I had was simply not working, and that I had to back up and start over. I wasn't happy listening to that voice, but I did listen to it and heed it. All my efforts to keep the things that I knew, deep down, were not going to work, had collapsed. It was time to listen to what my gut was really telling me.