Writing is a slippery beast. It can bring the most transcending highs, a feeling of absolute oneness; then abject misery and extreme frustration.
Some days words flow out of me like a deep, vast river… And others I feel more like a dry creek bed; white page, cursor taunting with its blinking. Or a pen that grows heavy in my hand but refuses to scribe.
So what’s up with that? What is this thing we call creativity; that angel of light and invisible demon that at times seduces but remains just outside our reach?
Poet, Ruth Stone said of her poems:
“I never felt that I wrote them anyways. I would feel them coming from way off, and then they would come toward me, and if I didn’t catch them they went through me and went on, so I just figured they were part of the universe, and not me.”
In her excellent 2009 TED Talk, author Elizabeth Gilbert postulates that creativity is less about genius and more about a genie - as in a muse, a spirit of creativity that comes to you and through you.
She recounts Ruth telling her that sometimes she’d only catch the tail end of a poem and it would come out backwards.
Likewise, musician Tom Waits told her he sometimes has to tell his creative sprites to come back at a more convenient time, if he’s driving for example.
Last year I went to a public talk Elizabeth gave in which she shared a remarkable story of creative transference, strongly supporting this idea of creativity as an external force that visits us, rather than something inherent.
She’d been working on a new novel when her husband was temporarily deported back to Brazil due to visa problems. When they returned she found she’d lost all inspiration for the book, despite boxes of research.
During this period she met fellow writer Ann Patchett for the first time. With star struck spontaneity she raced up and gushed that she loved her. Ann, completely deadpan, kissed her on the lips and said, “I love you too.”
And so began an abiding friendship based on letter writing. A year or so into their friendship Ann wrote that she had finished her manuscript and was finally ready to share the details of the story… Which lo and behold were almost identical to the book Elizabeth had planned to write. There was no way Ann stole her idea because Elizabeth had not mentioned it.
They traced back the timeline and concluded that the story jumped from Elizabeth to Ann in that kiss!
This idea seems to be continually reappearing in my world at present…
A couple of months ago I was in Bali for a few days and fell into conversation with a guy who was photographing and videoing an event I was at. Over the course of the conversation we hit upon this idea of creative sprites… He’d seen that TED Talk too and told me about a feature length film he was working on because, “I know if I don’t do it now, someone else will.”
So if creativity is something that comes from somewhere else can we all be creative?
Well theoretically yes.
Given these ideas and my own experiences as a writer, I feel we are human antennas; conduits for creativity, and in order to receive the muse’s inspiration we must be attuned to a certain frequency. And this is perhaps where the inherent portion of creativity enters the equation.
Maybe some of us are wired for creativity, in the same way that others are built for speed, strength and agility.
In my years of practicing and teaching yoga I know for a fact that you can stretch and strengthen all you like but at a certain point it comes down to anatomy. As for me… sitting in lotus, piece of cake… But forward bends, forget it!
Like top athletes, tuning in to your creative muse is like exercising and developing any other muscle. If you want to be a pro basketball player – you train, you shoot a lot of hoops. If you want to be a marathon runner, you’ve got to put in the miles. If you want to be an insanely good guitar player… You have to practice; practice until you have permanent calluses.
If we want to improve our ability to receive our creative sprites, we have to exercise our creative muscles, fine tune our writer’s strings, and persist through the pain of artistic desolation…
“When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”
– Steven Pressfield (The War of Art)
So creativity: inherent or otherworldly? I think perhaps a bit of both, like water poured over tea leaves... What about you?
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Leonie Orton is a writer, editor and marcomms consultant. She'll create communication mediums in the shape of words, graphics and webs for your business, connecting you with the people who need you. And due to a touch of adult ADHD she also teaches yoga, runs a floristry biz, holds a monthly Harvest Swap, and her raison d'être... Mothers two amazing little humans. Get in touch by email, facebook or subscribe to her weekly blog.