Last night, when I should have been fast asleep, I decided it would be a good idea to start watching Ted Talks episodes on YouTube. I sporadically watched a few, before stumbling across one that caught my attention, called ‘Your elusive creative genius’. It was a twenty minute talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author who penned the successful novel Eat, Pray, Love. During the talk, she spoke of the link between creativity and suffering that often exists in people that follow a creative path, and how writing is a career that can often be associated with negativity and insecurity. She also spoke about the ancient Greek and Roman idea of daemons and geniuses; how in the ancient times, the people believed that creative talent and inspiration was a gift given by a god-like figure, rather than being a talent that people were born with.
I thought it was a fascinating concept, and one that made perfect sense to me in a way. I wrote in a blog post last week about the significance of inspiration for writers; the importance for us to find that which inspires us to write, and our inspiration for what we write. I ended the post by saying that inspiration can strike at any point in time, and it’s up to the writer to always try and be ready for it. But unfortunately sometimes you can’t be.
I like to imagine that inspiration is like a quiet companion that’s always walked quietly beside me; a constant presence that no one else can see, but I can always feel. They’re the first ‘person’ I talk to about my ideas and plans for writing, and I am grateful for their presence. But inspiration can also be a cruel companion. When I sit down to write, and I want her to have a conversation with me and share her thoughts, she is infuriatingly stubborn. Inspiration mocks me at times, when I want to engage with it. Often, when I’m trying to sit and work on my writing, I am met by the frustratingly deafening silence of my inspiration refusing to speak to me.
There will never be a time when I don’t want inspiration to speak to me, per se. But there are times when I cannot properly deal with what it has to say to me. It could be that I am in work, or out in a social situation. Sometimes I’m in bed, about to pass out for the night. And it’s then, almost always then, that inspiration will sit up beside me in the bed, or stand beside me at the till, and quietly lean in and whisper a new idea that just makes perfect sense. It’s just plain cruel.
Because who wants to stumble out of bed at two in the morning to rummage sleepily through a drawer and find a random scrap of paper and a pen so they can desperately write down what’s in their mind before it escapes? No one wants to be the person on a night out with friends pulling out their phone to furiously type down a new idea, and I can’t just walk away from a customer to make note of what inspiration is giving me. But that is always been when inspiration is at her most active for me. Sometimes I think she is mocking me.
I don’t know how many times I have been stuck in a situation when I think of an idea, and I’m not able to write it down. It could be anything – a new character creation, an idea for some dialogue, a plan for how to carry my story forward. I can guarantee you that some of my most brilliant ideas have escaped me because I wasn’t able to write them down. There was probably a night when a best-selling idea came to me right before I fell asleep, and I was too tired to even register what was happening. And now I’ll never hear from it again.
The only good thing about it all is that inspiration can’t talk back.