Feb 272013
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About creativity and inspiration

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


I recently attended a book signing by Scottish author Ian Rankin, creator of the Inspector Rebus books. Ian Rankin 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?
In a TED talk, writer 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.
This past weekend, I attended Desert Nights Rising Stars 2013 Writers Conference at Arizona State University and heard what inspired some other writers. Betty Webb is driven by outrage at unjustness. Stella Pope Duarte 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. 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. 

As Madeleine L’Engle said “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” Several writers at this weekend’s 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.
What is your inspiration?  
Click here to view 10 TED talks about the beauty and difficulty of being creative, including Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk.

“Creativity is not something you possess, but something that expresses through you”        Julia Cameron


Ian Rankin signing my copy of Standing in Another Man's Grave at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore
Ian Rankin signing my copy of Standing in Another Man’s Grave at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore

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