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.