Monday, 23 January 2012

That Eureka! Moment: The Genie of Creativity

'Had I Not Been Awake' - Seamus Heaney

 Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
A wind that rose and whirled until the roof
Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore
And got me up, the whole of me a-patter,

Alive and ticking like an electric fence:
Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
It came and went so unexpectedly

And almost it seemed dangerously,
Returning like an animal to the house,
A courier blast that there and then

Lapsed ordinary. But not ever
After. And not now.

Last post, I wrote about having no inspiration. This post, au contraire, is about feeling inspired and marvelling at the whole process of creating. 

The above poem by Seamus Heaney perfectly describes the feeling when one is inspiration-struck. If you substitute the word 'aware' for 'awake' then you'll get a better understanding of the meaning behind the poem: the metaphorical wind of inspiration, whooshing in and shaking up recognitions, but only if we witnesss it, accept it.  I love the line  'the whole of me a-patter/ alive and ticking like an electric fence'. This is exactly how it feels when you're inspired creatively. When you are literally buzzing with energy and everything once ordinary  suddenly becomes hyper-real and extraordinary.

And it happens just like that, out of the blue (those blue bolts again), usually, in the middle of the night, as Heaney implies here. Infact, did you know that 4am is supposed to be the peak hour for creativity? When the waking rational mind is silenced just enough to comprehend things more fully, when the dormant dreaming artist's eye opens and ideas light upon it like stars. I've written some of my best stuff in the wee small hours of the morning, scribbling so fast it inevitably turns to shorthand. These instances are brief but brilliant, an epiphany of a kind, radiating light and realisation and regrowth on all that has been fallow and dark. A most welcome gift. A high-five Eureka where all is answered.

And what fascinates me is how I myself have absolutely nothing to do with these happenings, no control, no say, no ability to instigate them, schedulue them or summon them. They simply happen. From that great blue beyond. And I know a lot of you out there will agree with me on this. So many writers and artists have professed to this 'other' source from which their best ideas come, and talk of being merely the 'channel' through which these ideas are made manifest. 

In other words, they let this creative source work through them. I remember when younger and doing the whole school exam thing, the common cliche  doing the rounds of 'hoping for divine inspiration.' Something to intercede on our behalf and fill up the pages for us. And sometimes it worked. Ideas just came, out of the blue with blessings of what we didn't know (or maybe, didn't know we knew).

I like to refer to it, as many others would, as taking dictation. It's like cocking an ear and listening. Not even. Sometimes ideas, words, lines just fall into my consciousness, like floating bird feathers. They just come to me. Instant whispers from some wise source. Readers sometimes praise me on my use of vocabulary - how did I come up with that word, it sums it up exactly! And it's not as if I rummaged around amongst my inner thesaurus or dusty real book one, the word in question just sounded out of the ether, ping, just like that, as a light bulb pop ups up in cartoons above a character's head. I didn't need to think or find it; it was just there. Abracadabra. And I feel guilty for accepting compliments; it wasn't me really - it was that other voice, the creative space that hovers around us, elusive, ethereal, but eager to assist.

As I said, this theory resonates with a lot of creatives. I recently watched Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the hugely successful 'Eat, Pray, Love' talk on this and other aspects of creativity. She talks about how the ancient Greeks and Romans would refer to this aspect of the creative process as artists having a 'daemon' or a 'genius', like a genie or magical spirit that would assist in their work. She also mentions a poet who talked of how she would 'feel' poems coming at her and references singer-songwriter Tom Waits in this analogy too! *(See video below)*

Similarly, in the iconic 'The Artist's Way', the author Julia Cameron refers to creativity as a process of 'surrender, not control.' She is of the opinion that the universe takes a direct hand in our creative pursuits, adds that 'other' dimension to it, the divine, transcendant, inspired aspect.

Artists of all kinds respect and acknowledge this part of the process. But we also know that our part must be done too. When I said that words just come to me, I should also add that it's not all the time that this happens. Just some of the time. Other times, I do have to do a bit of thinking and scribbling. Creativity is a two-way street: we show up for our work and only then maybe the Muse will too.

Most of all, we must keep ourselves 'aware' incase we miss it - that wind in the night, that illumination, that electricity, that whooshing of ideas, that genie spirit whispering to us.  Keep ourselves awake. That's what I've been doing these last few days, and I'm delighted to announce I'm making my way out of the trough I'd fallen into (with a helping ethereal hand) and on the yellow brick road to creating once again.

It's a process that continually amazes me. Hence this post!

Keep Creating,

~ Siobhán.

Elizabeth Gilbert: A New Way to Think About Creativity:


  1. Yes, agree, late night/early morning is the most creative time for artists - some of the best music too is the product of late-nights! You can tell when something is written late night, its got a different character, more raw, authentic.
    Interesting that in Heaney's poem he says about creativity 'returning like an animal to the house' - could he be refering to a persons daemon? (being an animal and all that), the essential companion for creativity?

    1. Yes, good point! Like in Philip Pullman's Northern Lights trilogy - how everyone has an attending 'daemon' animal, as an essential part of their spirits....very observant!


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