Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Maddeningly creative?

Yesterday I linked my MissMakeAMovie post to a very humorous and insightful video of Elizabeth Gilbert discussing the effect of creative genius on writers. I’ve often felt that my stories come from somewhere else, The Great Beyond, not necessarily a specific “muse” assigned to me as writers so often ascribe their work. Gilbert described the poet feeling the poem coming toward her, and her sudden urgency in needing to catch it, put it to paper before it went on to find another poet who could translate it. Strange as it sounds, I think it’s not far off the mark. I believe there’s an immense writerly well of thought and ideas that percolates constantly, that sends out its signals and those of us with a particular sensitivity to it can capture it, some more astutely than others. That, I believe, is why similar stories appear at about the same time. There is no original premise; we all put our own particular spin on our stories.
Some stories, I’ve felt, have come through me fully formed, and I wrote as fast as I could to get it all down while its essence was still strong. This happened in August, when I happened across a description of a present-day entertainment that coincided with research I was doing. The idea came together so quickly, I wrote constantly through September, and finished an urban fantasy novel.
Amy Tan’s discussion of creative process touched on the right and left brain function, and the possibility of an abnormal chromosome in creative people’s brains. Could creativity be caused by a physical ailment, such as temporal lobe seizures? If you fail to live up to your potential, blame The Muse Deficit, she jokes. Can you really be said to fail if you’re still trying? As Albert Einstein said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”. I have felt the fortuitous serendipity of The Universe providing timely cues and ideas that I’ve layered into stories. The subconscious plays into it, because it is more well-informed than the conscious brain, and collects all the various necessary pieces, which our conscious brain can then connect into something (hopefully) coherent. Perhaps that explains why I'm such a strong believer in going with your gut. Your gut knows things. Things it will share, if you are open to them.
Likewise with the historical romance novel I only this week finished the first draft. I’d visited a city five years ago whose history captivated my imagination. I spent an entire day in the library, copying old articles and letters and anything I could find. I bought books from the local historical society. I visited two local museums. I actually visualized the story in a very powerful moment while at one of those museums. I packed all the material in my suitcase and brought it home, and it sat. For five years. Why? I think it’s because I had to first discover the romance novel in all its subgenres. It’s a great story, but honestly, I don’t think any publisher would have viewed it as viable in the marketplace unless layered onto a romance.
BTW, I’m so glad Harper Studio featured Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on their blog, or I’d have never discovered Ted.com. Thanks, Harper Studio! We all need a little reminder of why we need to write, and that we’re not so crazy after all. Alternately, we could remember Mark Twain’s apt view: When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

1 comment:

Emma Lai said...

Great post, Cate. It's so interesting to see where authors receive their inspiration from. On my part, certain scenes get stuck in my head and then the story just falls into place around the scenes.