The Creative Pipeline

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I recently listened to one of the TED talks, delivered by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the internationally successful Eat Pray Love. I’ve read Eat Pray Love and didn’t like it much. It started off well and then disappeared inside itself and failed to take me along for the ride. This talk however, inspired me. It’s about where creativity comes from and suggests a way in which creative people might begin to look at it in order to save themselves from the all-too-common angst and anxiety that comes with a creativity that will not be stopped for anything, no matter how torturous this might be for the artist.

Elizabeth tells the story of when she interviewed American Poet Ruth Stone. Stone told Elizabeth that (I’m paraphrasing from her talk here) she could feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape like a thunderous train of air barrelling through her. When she felt it coming she knew she had to run like hell to the house to get to a pencil and paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her she could collect it. Sometimes, when she couldn’t run fast enough, she would almost miss it and in these times she’d reach for her pencil with one hand and grab the poem by its tail with the other and pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards from the last word to the first.

I think every artist has at some point experienced this incredible event; this becoming a creative pipeline to another force that won’t be held back and gives you this thing almost whole and complete before you’ve even realised what it is. I cried when I listened to this story of Stone’s as spoken by Elizabeth Gilbert, because when you do become the pipeline, the feeling, which is impossible to explain, is like none other I have ever felt.

There are times when I get full sentences dropped straight into my head. Mostly they are ideas and stories that drop in, as if some divine being above me unscrews the top of my skull and drops a creative nugget in there and screws it up tight again before moving on to visit someone else. There were times when I was writing Beat that my focus would soften and I would type for a length of time almost as if in a coma. When the feeling dissipated I’d read what I’d written, knowing that I had nothing to do with it. And yet, there were these wonderful words, all strung together in a wonderful way, sitting on the page like a present gift-wrapped in black and white.

Mostly this thing is just a feeling. A knowing that something is brewing quite close to me and if I stay still and open up my flip-top skull, soon something I’d never thought of before will drop into it. I’m making this sound romantic and that’s partly because, to me, the whole notion of being a creative pipeline is romantic, but the reality of it is often a torturous labour and birthing process and the more you question it the more torturous it becomes. I can feel it now. That brewing feeling surrounded me yesterday and is with me still. It’s about Beat; it’s another draft, I know that, and the urge to fight it is very very strong. Another draft is so much work. But I know that if the muse is behind it, it would be a mistake indeed to ignore her.



Filed under Art, Beauty, Fiction, Inspirational, Love, My Book, Poetry, Reading, Spiritual, Women/Feminist, Writing

14 responses to “The Creative Pipeline

  1. That’s a fantastic description. It’s such a strange thing and so addictive and when it’s not there it feels like some torture of being dead with a heartbeat. Another draft of Beat? Isn’t it perfect already?


    • It is, isn’t it?
      Yes, another draft. Sigh. I got another knock-back, this time from the publisher that was interested and wavered for several months. She said they loved how different it was and loved the writing but felt that the structure needs more work. Now that I’ve had the same feedback three times I’m going to listen to it and do another draft with the structure on the chopping block this time.
      Can you hear me rolling up my shirtsleeves and cracking open a bottle of vodka…?


      • Oh thanks, just a twist of lime in mine please. Sometimes I wonder why we bother having writers. If the editors know so much about it why don’t they just write their own books? And why is it that editors (and everyone else involved in the process) can make a living from the process of writing, but those shovelling the coal, the writers, can’t? Doesn’t seem right to me. A little more ice, thanks.

        Yes, the whole not making a living thing is pretty disheartening, especially when you know it’s why you’re here (on the planet!) and doing anything else just feels like you’re merely treading water. In saying that, another edit can only make it better (hopefully!).


  2. This is an interesating post. The subject fascinates me – that’s why I so often deal with muses. For me, sometimes an idea just comes and I always have access to pen and paper no matter where I am.
    Then there’s the brainstorm. When this happens, ideas just flow – I’ve had ideas for 20 and more stories in just an hour when this perfect speed is reached. I dread these moments ‘cos at the end I’m totally drained and incapable of doing a thing.
    Mindst you, turning these ideas into work is a different matter. I’ve learnt to use commonsense here – you can’t do everything at once. Hence, as long as the note is there, I can leave it. At this present time I’ve got notes for maybe 400 things yet unwritten – and suspect some of them never will be.


    • Yes, I like your muse posts. I can certainly picture you madly grabbing for the notebook in your pocket whenever she strikes!
      I too have an ideas file in my laptop, filled with random sentences and ideas waiting for me to get to them 🙂


  3. “The divine cock-eyed genius assigned to your case…!” What a brilliant phrase for the fickle muse. A truly inspiring talk from Elizabeth Gilbert. I don’t write much poetry these days, concentrating on painting (which has its own peculiar muse difficulties), but when I was younger I always felt that the ‘real’ poems were the ones that almost seemed to bypass my brain and just flowed from my pen…and I didn’t dare fiddle with them as I didn’t quite feel they were mine. Painting ideas tend to just pop into my head fully formed, and then they’re like an unruly bunch of people all trying to get to the front of the queue, with reasons why they should get painted first. And they won’t shut up when you’re tired, or trying to get the kids to bed, or have 16 loads of washing to do either!


    • Yes! It’s a wonderful phrase 🙂
      I love the description of your painting ideas all jostling in the queue to be born! Knowing your talent like I do, I can only envy the not-so-cock-eyed genius assigned to you!


  4. Man, wasn’t that talk superb? I laughed and I cried, felt inspired and a lot less scared.


  5. Thanks for pointing me to that talk, Simonne. I can relate to the idea of the external genius, but I think mine is incredibly petty and judgmental.


  6. There are some great talks on TED. Thanks for highlighting this one. I understand what you are saying about a stream of creativity and not knowing exactly where it comes from. Often times I find thoughts running around in my mind and flowing onto the keyboard and I am surprised because I cannot attest to whence they came. In Wayne Dyers recent movie “Ambition to Meaning” there is a scene where a man is sitting at the piano playing beautiful music, he pauses to have a conversation with another person and in the middle of the conversation, he says “Can you hear that”, the other person says “What, I don’t hear anything”. The piano player then begins to play and explains that sometimes if he just listens he hears the music and then he plays it. I think for many of us this is how the creativity flows, we don’t force it, we simply listen and allow.


  7. I’m glad you pointed me to this, because I loathed Eat, Pray, Love, and dismissed it as white upper middle class whinging and exoticising. I may just give Gilbert another chance. Maybe 🙂


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