A Light Comes On

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Light bulbs - about creativity and inspiration

Where do artistic and creative ideas come from? How do writers, artists, cooks, parents, crafters, problem-solvers, and other creative thinkers find the spark for their work?

Ian Rankin, creator of the Inspector Rebus mystery books, builds a folder of newspaper clippings and jotted notes, all possible ideas for his next book, throughout the year. In November and December, he reviews the folder and decides what his book will be about. He starts writing in January.

Ideas do not always come from such a structured approach. I often get story and blog ideas from dreams or during that semi-awake state just before falling asleep or waking up. There is something to be said for letting go, not trying so hard, and letting the sub-conscious mind work for you. Unfortunately I don’t always remember these great ideas when I am fully awake, but I do remember some.

Many of us have experienced moments of synchronicity when things just seem to come together. Like those times when you learn a new word and then hear it several times within the week. There is something magical when this happens with a creative pursuit and you stumble across connected ideas and themes. Is this the mind being open to things it might not otherwise have seen, or is it, as Julia Cameron might suggest, divine help.

Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame talks about looking at creativity differently. Instead of thinking about it as something that springs from inside us, she refers to old Roman and Greek concepts. To the Romans, genius was “a magical divine entity who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio… and who would come out and invisibly assist the artist with their work.” This creates a distance between the artist and his/her work, protecting from narcissism when the work is really good and self-loathing when the work is really bad. After all, it’s not totally the artist’s fault.

At the Desert Nights Rising Stars 2013 Writers Conference in Tempe, Arizona, Betty Webb talked about being driven by outrage at unjustness and Stella Pope Duarte said she’d started writing because of a prophetic dream about her father.

I’ve heard many people claim they aren’t creative, but I think everyone has creativity within them or a genius in their walls. The irony and the magic of creativity is that it is unlimited and it feeds on itself. The more time I spend writing, the more the ideas flow. One good idea leads to another. I liken this to the adage “if you want something done, ask a busy person.”

Of course, that spark of inspiration, that brilliant idea, that revelation, or that moment of epiphany is just the start. It is the subsequent hard work which turns the idea into a great story, a magnificent work of art, or a workable solution. At a book signing, Ian Rankin talked about his page 65 crisis, the point in a new book when he’d used up his ideas and struggled with what came next. It takes hard work to get past that to the completion of a 400 page book.

Ian Rankin signing a book
Ian Rankin signing one of his books for me

Madeleine L’Engle said “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” Several writers at this Desert Nights Rising Stars conference talked about carrying on writing, trusting the ideas will come. The discovery and surprise turns the work into play.

Creativity strikes in many forms. We need to be open to seeing and hearing it.

Click here to view 10 TED talks about the beauty and difficulty of being creative, including Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk.

What is your inspiration?

(Note: An earlier version of this article was first posted in Destinations Detours and Dreams.)


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3 Comments

  1. yosemitesyd said:

    Great post, Donna. Poet Mary Oliver says “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” I do believe that all people have the capacity to be creative. As long as they nurture the abilities that Oliver speaks of, they will discover the muse (or the muse will find them).
    Looking forward to seeing you and your husband tomorrow night at Babbo’s!

    April 2, 2018
    Reply
    • Donna Janke said:

      Thanks Sydney. I love the Mary Oliver quote. Looking forward to seeing you too.

      April 3, 2018
      Reply
  2. My inspiration usually comes directly from real life, even when I’m writing fiction (which tends to be literary realism). I used to keep a folder of newspaper clippings. I should go back to doing so, but it’s been ages since I subscribed to a paper 😉

    April 8, 2018
    Reply

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