writer's life

Getting Struck by Lightning v. Sifting for Gold

I deeply and ardently admire Elizabeth Gilbert.  Let me count the ways–no, I won’t, because that would take an entire novel’s worth and I doubt you’re that interested.

But I have to say this: Elizabeth Gilbert and I think a little differently about creativity.  The way we process creativity is different.  Which, of course it is, because people are different.  That’s definitely a Thing.  

The way Elizabeth Gilbert talks about creativity makes me feel like a prude.  A creative prude.  She challenges her readers in Big Magic to “have an affair” with their creativity.  Sneak away to make out with it for fifteen minutes in the stairwell.  “Don’t think of it all as burdensome; think of it all as sexy.”  I mean, me here.  Ha.  I treat my writing like we’re an old married couple: “You gonna hold my hand today?” “Don’t I hold your hand everyday, woman?”

Liz Gilbert thinks about creativity in Big Ways.  In Extremes.  When Liz Gilbert talks about creativity and getting ideas, she labels it as Magic.  “Like, in the Hogwarts sense.”

This is not where we disagree.  Because I would be the last person to tell you that creativity isn’t magical and magic itself, because it totally is.

But consider this excerpt from Elizabeth Gilbert’s magnificent book, Big Magic:

When he told me this story–especially the part about the jungle swallowing up the machines–chills ran up my arms.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood up for an instant, and I felt a little sick, a little dizzy.  I felt like I was falling in love, or had just heard alarming news, or was looking over a precipice at something beautiful and mesmerizing, but dangerous.

I’d experienced these symptoms before, so I knew immediately what was going on.  Such an intense emotional and physiological reaction doesn’t strike me often, but it happens enough (and is consistent enough with symptoms reported by people all over the world, all throughout history) that I believe I can confidently call it by its name: inspiration.

This is what it feels like when an idea comes to you.

Disclaimer: I know that I’m going to be putting too fine a point on it here, but here it is.

I agree with a great deal of this statement, because it has happened to me several times, once very vividly, when I got the idea for my epic middle grade series and, in the space of a very intense minute, I could see the entire story laid out in front of me, and it felt like my brain was going to ooze out of my ears.

But I’ll be honest.  I feel just a smidge left out here, because I don’t tend to get Struck like this.  Maybe back when I was a teenager, and I’d run off after any idea with a pretty enough face, but I learned not to chase those ideas, or to give them as much time as I was, because I couldn’t hunker down for the long haul and that’s not fair to the idea or to me.

Inspiration has become subtler and subtler to me over the years.  It isn’t as electrifying or, dare I say, magical.  When I get an idea for a story, I don’t know that it’s going to become a Thing because they tend to come to me the same as any other idea.  Finding an Idea that I’m going to turn into a Story is, for me, like sifting for gold.  I paw through the ideas that are kind of ordinary and dull until I find something shiny.  It may be half-buried in muck with dirt all in the crevices that’ll be a bitch to get out, but it glints with promise under the scorching sun.

All that being said, I kind of like the way Liz Gilbert gets ideas.  It sounds practically orgasmic, and hey, I’ve been kind of tense lately.

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