I watched this 19-minute speech by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love) the other night and loved the little anecdote she gave about creative inspiration. I’ve included a transcript of it below, but you should also watch the whole clip. Her speech about ‘nurturing creativity’ is honest and spot-on.
Here’s the exert:
“I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet.
She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page.
And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” ”
I could relate to this, especially that last line about the poem looking “for another poet.”
About three years ago, I had an idea for a young-adult novel. I was working at a bookstore in New York at the time, when Alanis Morissette’s famous break-up song “You Oughta Know” came on the stereo. I remember being struck with this idea to write a novel about a 16-year-old girl whose ex-boyfriend records a break-up song about her. What might it be like to get into your car, turn on the radio and hear your ex-boyfriend’s voice singing about the intimate details of your relationship? I wondered. I felt the idea swelling up in me like a balloon. And I had this intense urge to get it down on paper before it burst and disappeared.
Well, although I did get the idea down on paper and thought about it often over the next few years, I never did much with it. Then a few months ago, I was in Barnes and Noble when I saw it. My book! It was called Audrey, Wait! and here’s the School Library Journal’s recap of the plot: “When 16-year-old Audrey decides to dump her band-singer boyfriend, she has no idea that he will go on to write a chart-topping song about their break-up.”
I actually read the book and it’s good. It’s funny and clever and perfect in every way except for the fact that the name on the cover is Robin and not Reannon. And get this, this Robin girl (a first-time novelist) worked in a bookstore and was inspired to write the novel while listening to a break-up song.
Coincidence? Probably. But I prefer to think when I failed to listen to my muse, she gave up and pawned the great book idea off to someone else.
Where do you think creativity comes from? And how does the creative process work for you? Do your creative ideas come to you suddenly like lightning bolts? Or is it more of a gradual process that you have to work at (like it is for Elizabeth Gilbert)?