Mild panic ensued. I had nothing else lined up—I was a dry well, an empty envelope, a blank page. It had finally happened: creativity had deserted me.
Which led me to wondering about the nature of artistry, and in particular, the nature of creativity and inspiration. Unlike other writers I know, I don’t live in a cloud of creativity and leave a trail of ideas wherever I go. Persistence drives me more than inspiration does.
And yet… And yet, even I have been touched by inspiration. It’s a wonderful feeling. To catch fire from an idea and to be unable to do anything else until that idea, that scene, that short story is written down and captured. To be inspired is to be blessed, to be touched by the Muse.
Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat Pray Love, does a wonderful TED talk on genius. She means genius in the ancient sense of the word, what today we think of as inspiration.
Gilbert discusses the “maddening capriciousness” of the creative process in the context of writing her next book after the phenomenal success of Eat Pray Love. Anyone who has ever felt the touch of inspiration knows what it’s like to return to the everyday once the creative fire has moved on. How do you keep writing, when you don’t know if you’ll ever be touched by “genius” again?
You keep showing up and doing the work, that’s how.
Gilbert tells a delightful story about the American poet Ruth Stone who grew up on a farm and whose poems rushed toward her over the landscape on a thunderous train of air. Stone would have to drop everything and run as fast as she could to the farmhouse to find a piece of paper on which to capture the poem as it swept by, else it would be lost to her.
What an image, eh? A poem thundering across the landscape, coming for you, and you had better be ready to capture it. So when inspiration comes calling, be ready.