Ironically, to introduce you to creativity month, I’m going to do something which most would argue is not that creative and introduce you to another writer’s anecdote on creativity.
It’s from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, and I find it spellbinding. The woman Gilbert describes below is Ruth Stone, a poet from rural Virginia.
“As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem. The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would “continue on across the landscape looking for another poet”.
And then there were these times, there were moments where she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her and she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.”
Isn’t that a glorious description of being struck with a creative idea? And then the full body urge (and full body sprint) to write it down.
Unfortunately, these sublime moments typically happen to me when I am falling asleep, at exactly the falling part. And all I want to do is land into a pillow of unconsciousness, and instead I have to stop myself mid, glorious, free fall and rock climb up the face of a mountain with the tips of my fingers clinging to an inch of rock.
Okay I’m being dramatic, I roll over and type it out on my phone, but please tell me I’m not the only one who’s mind loves to work its best when half conscious?
Allow me one more similar anecdote, below, from Roald Dahl’s memoir.
So when an idea for a story comes popping into my mind, I rush for a pencil, a crayon, a lipstick, anything that will write, and scribble a few words that will later remind me of the idea. Often one word is enough. I was once driving alone on a country road and an idea came for a story about someone getting stuck in an elevator between floors in an empty house. I had nothing to write with in the car. So I stopped and got out. The back of the car was covered in dust. With one finger I wrote in the dust a single word ELEVATOR. That was enough.
Both anecdotes begin with that moment of inspiration, but what I love to focus on more, is the work that follows, which starts by not letting anything stop you from writing it down.
I think the work of creativity is often overlooked as we get caught up in the romanticism of it all. Sure one may be struck by a fully written poem while walking in the woods, but I can guarantee that Stone did the work leading up to that sublime moment because she was willing to sprint back to her home and scrawl out the words before they disappeared. Girl was a hustler.
Said work can look different for everyone — from free journaling to coloring to simply taking a daily walk with the intention of mulling on ideas.
But I think the best kept secret of creative work, is that if you do it enough, your brain will start to crave it, so it no longer feels like work. Not to mention, a day of creativity provides me with some of the most majestic sleep. I think because I’ve worked my brain enough that it’s satisfied to turn itself off.
I, personally, crave it so much that when I don’t find the time to write I become the worst form of myself — a liar. If I don’t take the time to make up stories, lines of dialogue for characters or write down a story of my own, I find myself sitting at a bar telling a stranger an elaborate lie about myself. Why? Because I so desperately need to tell someone a story that I will lie if necessary to do so.
Okay — but enough about my weird creative ticks. Go create something yourself, even if it’s just a doodle. Your brain will thank you.