“The basic unit of that particular process is a comparison. You take two slips and you say: “Which one comes first?”. And I don’t know of any rational way in which you can pass a rule as to which one comes first but it seems like you always know. And now you get two slips and that’s the beginning of your story. Next, you take your next slip and you compare it with the first one. And you say: “Which one comes first?”. And you get an answer and if it’s behind the first one you compare it with the second one. And pretty soon you have a three-slip story. And this was the basic process.
… I learned that the most important process is: never try to sort your slips out at the same time you’re collecting them. That’s very interesting, that as soon as you try to organise your thoughts the creative process dies…
The ideas seem to come in flights. All of a sudden there’s a pile of them coming you can hardly write them down fast enough … Other times you just get complete emptiness, this void. And then I say, this is a time I better start organising. And sometimes in the process of organising all of a sudden that flight will start up again of new slips because something in the problem of organisation will get these new slips going.
… You can only do one thing at a time and whatever is the top slip is the thing to do. And then having this box and having these slips I was able, at that time, to use the same structure to construct the book ZMM. It started with slips.
First there was an essay. And then I said, “Boy, I’m never going to get this in an essay, maybe I ought to write a story.” So I wrote a long story and I said: “This story is too dull, it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s just a lot of philosophy that nobody is going to read.” So I had just taken a trip with my son to California and I said: “Why don’t I put this essay inside this trip I took with my son to California?” And I did that. And then I looked at it and said “There are too many ‘I’s in this book. It’s all about me. What I need is a character called ‘he’.” So this character called Phædrus came in and he kind of got up and ran away with the book, you see? But if I’d started out with that book saying what I was going to have in the beginning it never would have occurred. It never would have occurred. It was a process of living myself, of having a static structure in the box of slips and in the outlines I kept reformulating, but ultimately say: “If I see something better, I’ll do it”.
Robert Pirsig – Source